A journal reviewer has said “Hong Kong” is a foreign name that should be amended to include its Mandarin romanisation “Xianggang,” raising concerns about academic freedom.

University of Edinburgh PhD student Andrew Yu tweeted that one of the four reviewers of an academic paper he submitted to a peer-reviewed journal said it would “not [be] appropriate to use only the foreign name: Hong Kong.” The unidentified reviewer suggested “Xianggang” should appear alongside its English name, which has been used for at least 180 years since Britain colonised the region in 1841 following the first Sino-British Opium War.

The University of Edinburgh in Scotland. Photo: Wikicommons.

“One of the reviewers requests me to add Mandarin Pinyin and remove all colonialism-related wordings,” he wrote. “Perhaps he or she is from China? My answer to the requests is NO.”

Journal editors usually invite academics who are qualified in the field of study to review articles before publication. Yu said his paper underwent a double-blind review, meaning he does not know the identity of his reviewers.

His author page on the University of Edinburgh website appeared to be inaccessible at the time of publication but has since been restored. HKFP has reached out to Yu and the University of Edinburgh for comment.

Yu’s tweet was posted on July 20 under the hashtag #DefendingHongKong but gained traction two weeks after Pen Hong Kong President Tammy Ho and Tuen Mun District Councillor Sam Cheung reshared it on Facebook.

Cheung told HKFP the translation could not by any means be “Xianggang”: “It is totally unacceptable that they refer to Hong Kong as ‘Xianggang.’ They are testing Hongkongers’ limit, bit by bit, to see at which point there would be backlash.”

Sam Cheung. Photo: Sam Cheung, via Facebook.

“It also proves the oppression is overwhelming and infiltrating all aspects [of life]. Some might have thought of being apolitical but this example of the academia revealed that it’s impossible.”

Update 6.8.20: this piece was updated with a line on Yu’s author page, which has since become accessible.

Rachel Wong

Rachel Wong previously worked as a documentary producer and academic researcher. She has a BA in Comparative Literature and European Studies from the University of Hong Kong. She has contributed to A City Made by People and The Funambulist, and has an interest in cultural journalism and gender issues.