Hundreds march on Hong Kong university to decry Mandarin-row suspensions
Protesters say they will not rule out stronger action if student union president Lau Tsz-kei and medical student Andrew Chan are not allowed to return to classes
Hundreds marched on Baptist University campus on Friday to protest against the suspension of two students over an ill-tempered stand-off with staff about the school’s Mandarin language requirements.
They would not rule out escalated action if management do not reverse the decision.
Protesters, including the institution’s students, staff and alumni plus students from other local universities and members of the public, flooded the Jockey Club Courtyard of the school’s Kowloon Tong campus. Organisers estimated there were about 300 people on the march.
The march continued towards Shaw Tower, where provost Professor Clayton MacKenzie received a letter from student leaders.
At issue was the suspension of student union president Lau Tsz-kei and medical student Andrew Chan Lok-hang for their involvement in an eight-hour stand-off at the school’s language centre last week. During the incident Lau was filmed using foul language towards a staff member.
According to the student union, citing the school, four students had been summoned for a disciplinary hearing over the argument. That number had been five, but the summons for one student was cancelled after he explained he had been there as a reporter.
Lau and Chan’s supporters were particularly aggrieved that they were suspended before disciplinary proceedings concluded.
The students were among about 30 who stormed the centre to call for the scrapping of a Mandarin module they must pass to graduate. They said they should be free to choose what courses they take.
They also demanded greater transparency for an exemption test for the Mandarin course, which they said was too hard after 70 per cent of those who sat it failed. Anyone who passes the test, proving they already have a high level of Mandarin, does not have to take the course.
Lau has since apologised for using foul language during the row, but denied that any of the students threatened staff.
“Shame on prosecuting students,” one protester shouted as the throng came face to face with MacKenzie. The provost promised to ensure that the letter would be conveyed to university president Roland Chin Tai-hong and senior management.
“I am pleased to see it is a peaceful event,” he said.
At a rally before the march, Lau said he hoped students would not be afraid to participate in discussion about school matters.
“I hope you will not give up on Baptist University,” he said. “I will do my best to fight for the cancellation of the Mandarin requirement.”
As he addressed the crowd, Chan broke into tears. He said the support made him “very touched and thankful”.
At least five alumni at the march said they had taken the day off work to attend.
Watch: Baptist University Mandarin row boils over
A Baptist University fourth-year social work student said he did not normally get involved in student union events, but had skipped a class to attend the rally. He noted that about 20 other students from his class had joined, having informed their teacher beforehand.
Dr Kenneth Chan Ka-lok, an associate professor at the university, said he hoped Chin would let the suspended students resume their studies until disciplinary proceedings were complete. He added that he was against the Mandarin requirement, as ditching it would allow students time to study other subjects of their choosing.
One woman, who suffers muscular dystrophy, said she walked for about an hour from her home near Lok Fu to the campus to show support for the students, as she felt what the school did was unreasonable.
The rally was briefly delayed by a group of about 15 people from the pro-Beijing Treasure Friendship Group, who broke into a small quarrel with those supporting the students.
The pro-Beijing group supported Chin’s decision and demanded the sacking of Professor Lo Ping-cheung, associate dean at the university’s faculty of arts, and Dr Chan Sze-chi, senior lecturer from the department of religion and philosophy. Both academics had been critical of the suspensions.
In a statement, Chin said he and the senior management would give due consideration to the students’ opinions on the suspensions and their appeals regarding the Mandarin exemption test.
He said the suspensions were made according to the school’s usual disciplinary procedures, and were fair.
Also on Friday, Andrew Chan reported to police death threats he had received since the furore began. He revealed earlier that he had had to put on hold an internship at a hospital in Guangzhou over the threats, to both him and the hospital.
Separately, police were on Friday investigating a report of criminal damage after graffiti was daubed on the walls of the university’s Au Shue Hung Memorial Library, Communication and Visual Arts Building and a sports centre.
One of the daubed images included foul language directed at Chin and another said “No to Mandarin”.
No one has been arrested over the vandalism.
Additional reporting by Clifford Lo