The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) has become “stronger” after it was besieged during the 2019 anti-extradition bill unrest, the institution’s Council Chairman Lam Tai-fai has said.

His remark came as the university unveiled a new entrance to its Hung Hom campus, which was left in disarray following violent protests.

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee (third from left) and Hong Kong Polytechnic University Council Chairman Lam Tai-fai (third from right) with student representatives at the opening ceremony of the university’s new main entrance on August 24, 2022. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

PolyU celebrated the opening of its main entrance on Cheong Wan Road on Wednesday. November will mark three years since the university was transformed into one of the most brutal battlefields between police and protesters in November 2019.

The new gate – designed to help celebrate PolyU’s 85th anniversary – features a red-brick that recalls the institution’s signature façade. On the left hand side of the entrance plaza, a large PolyU logo stands out against a green wall.

Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s new main entrance, which was unveiled on August 24, 2022. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The renovated main entrance was once the site of fierce clashes, as protesters threw bricks and petrol bombs, shot arrows, and launched objects from catapults. Police deployed tear gas, water cannon, armoured trucks and a variety of projectiles.

The university was completely surrounded by police for almost two weeks. Some protesters were holed up inside the red-brick campus, while others “surrendered” to the authorities. Some took desperate measures to flee the university by climbing down ropes or escaping through underground sewers. Over 1,300 people were arrested and more than 300 were hospitalised.

Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s new main entrance was unveiled on August 24, 2022. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The campus was scarred following the violent skirmishes and lockdown, with petrol bombs, rotting food, abandoned protest gear and discarded clothing strewn across the devastated campus in the aftermath.

On Wednesday, the PolyU council chair Lam recalled the devastation in 2019 and said it was “heart-breaking and infuriating” that the university was forced to halt operations at the time. The violence on campus was eventually resolved through “close collaboration” between the university and the government, he said.

Hong Kong Polytechnic University Council Chairman Lam Tai-fai speaks at the opening ceremony of the university’s new main entrance on August 24, 2022. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“There was a shocking scene of devastation at the main entrance where we all stand today… Our PolyU today is stronger than it was three years ago, with more energy and momentum,” said Lam, who graduated from PolyU in 1981.

The council chairman went on to say that the “riot” would neither stop the Hong Kong government from implementing One Country, Two Systems, nor PolyU’s future development.

A new ceiling design at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University main entrance plaza. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“The PolyU has strong vitality, with sufficient wisdom, tenacity, courage and ability to [face challenges] of all kinds,” he said.

Wednesday’s ceremony began with all guests rising up to sing the Chinese national anthem, accompanied by a video showing China’s navy, celebrations at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and the national emblem. Among those present was Chief Executive John Lee and Chief Secretary Eric Chan, who both officiated the unveiling ceremony.

Guests attending the opening ceremony of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s new main entrance on August 24, 2022, stand up to sing the Chinese national anthem. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The Hong Kong leader said the redesigned main entrance symbolised a new chapter for PolyU, which he praised for “actively responding” to the goal of building Hong Kong as an international innovative technology hub, as set out in the National 14th Five-Year Plan. The university had also contributed to developing anti-Covid technology, he said.

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee attends the opening ceremony of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s new main entrance on August 24, 2022. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The city should focus on nurturing youngsters, Lee said, citing Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s speech on July 1. Local universities bear the responsibility of cultivating a new generation that is patriotic and would safeguard national security, he added.

“The development of the youth is the development of Hong Kong. [If] the youth has a future, then Hong Kong has a future,” Lee said.

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee (right) and Hong Kong Polytechnic University Council Chairman Lam Tai-fai at the opening ceremony of the university’s new main entrance on August 24, 2022. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Other guests included Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang, Deputy Secretary for Justice Horace Cheung, representatives from Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong and lawmakers.

The ceremony also featured more than 100 PolyU student representatives dressed in bright red t-shirts, who unfurled a long vertical banner bearing the university’s motto: “To learn and to apply, for the benefit of mankind.”

People scan QR codes to leave the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Following the 2019 campus unrest, PolyU, which used to be an open campus, stepped up security measures, including setting up electronic gates and requiring students, staff and visitors to scan their cards or a QR code upon entering and leaving. The main entrance had also been surrounded by tall, water-filled barricades, with security guards on standby.

While the gates were in place at other entrances of the PolyU campus, they were not seen at the new entrance on Wednesday. HKFP has reached out to the university to confirm whether similar structures will be installed at the main gate, and whether the university had plans to ease restrictions on access.

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.