A senior lecturer at Hong Kong Baptist University has criticised Vice-chancellor Roland Chin’s decision to suspend students who protested a Mandarin language requirement, questioning whether his actions were “politically motivated.”

Last week, the Baptist University Students’ Union (BUSU) held an eight-hour protest at the school’s Language Centre. Students must pass the centre’s Mandarin test if they wish to be exempted from enrolling on a language course, as Mandarin language proficiency is a graduation requirement.

Hong Kon Baptist University. File photo: InMedia.

The first round of tests revealed that 70 per cent of those who sat the test failed, prompting students to demand talks with the administration. A video later emerged showing Student Union President Lau Tsz-kei swearing at staff members. Following the incident, Chinese medicine student Andrew Chan Lok-hang – who was present at the protests – was attacked by state media outlet Global Times and had to cut short his internship in mainland China after receiving threats.

Chan is the convenor of group Societas Linguistica Hongkongensis, which promotes the use of Cantonese instead of Mandarin as a medium to teach Chinese. Global Times claimed that Chan was involved in pro-independence activities and reported on his internship at a Guangdong hospital.

Lau and Chan were then suspended with Vice-chancellor Roland Chin saying that the students made the teachers feel “insulted” and “threatened.”

At the press conference on Thursday. Photo: In-Media.

Several students involved in the demonstration received notices to attend a disciplinary hearing, including a student senate representative and the editor-in-chief of the student union’s Editorial Board. Andrew Chan said his disciplinary hearing will take place in mid-February.

‘Cultural revolution methods’

At a Thursday press conference, lecturer Dr. Chan Sze Chi said that the Global Times used “cultural revolution” methods to attack the students by making one-sided accusations and failing to interviewing those involved in the movement. He also rejected the paper’s claim that those who were protesting the school’s actions were “pro-independence.”

Dr. Chan Sze Chi. File Photo: Stand News.

Dr. Chan said that the language requirement demanded students to “retake” Mandarin – as students in Hong Kong are required to study Mandarin at primary and secondary school. He also said that the focus of the language centre’s class was on phonology, and many students struggled with the course. If they did not pass, they would not be able to graduate, he said – resulting in frustration.

Dr. Chan said that he and Andrew Chan had planned on initiating a referendum on the topic last spring, but negotiated with the school so that students could sit an exemption test instead. The school promised that the test would have a reasonable marking scheme and would focus on communication skills rather than phonology.

He added that no one has protested the lessons at primary and secondary school levels, adding that Baptist University’s requirements should be revised but not scrapped.

‘Politically motivated’ 

Dr Chan also said that Andrew Chan did not block a staff member featured in the video, nor use vulgarities against her. “Roland Chin – on what basis are you suspending [Andrew Chan]? If you’re suspending in this manner, my immediate question would be – is it politically motivated? Do you have a political motive? Are you engaging in a cultural revolution style of political oppression, learning from the Global Times…?”

Shiu Ka-chun. Photo: In-Media.

Shiu Ka-chun, a HKBU alumni and lawmaker, said that the incident had become very emotional and confrontational. He called for an independent investigative committee to look into the row.

march and a class boycott will be held on Friday to protest student suspensions.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.