Chinese University chief condemns student graduation protest at Beijing’s Basic Law ruling

Students at Hong Kong institution also tear up pictures of Leung Chun-ying during the ceremony

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 November, 2016, 5:39pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 November, 2016, 11:01pm

The vice chancellor of Chinese University condemned students on Thursday for staging a political protest during their graduation ceremony and tearing up pictures of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

Professor Joseph Sung Jao-yiu said it was inappropriate and regrettable that around 20 graduates raised signs bearing the Chinese character for “interpretation” crossed out when the national anthem was played at the university’s 81st Congregation for the Conferment of Degrees.

It was an extension of the fallout from the disqualification of two localist lawmakers for their anti-China antics at their swearing-in ceremony last month, which was preceded by Beijing interpreting the Basic Law to make such conduct punishable by stripping offenders of their seats.

The students also tore up pictures of the chief executive while their supporters in the audience cheered them on.

“The graduation is an important and solemn ceremony that should be respected by the school and students. To demonstrate at this event is inappropriate and [I express my] regrets,” Sung said.

“I hope that the students can learn better how to respect each other.”

Some students also criticised Sung for choosing to deliver his speech in Putonghua ahead of Cantonese and English, but he insisted he stuck to trilingual tradition and did not pay attention to the order of languages.

The university’s student union hit back with a statement to declare that it was more important to value social justice.

“We believe it is more disrespectful for the authority to disqualify our elected lawmakers,” union representative Kelvin Chan Siu-to said. “The vice chancellor should be pleased that students pay attention to social affairs.”

During the Occupy protests two years ago, students at Chinese University raised yellow umbrellas during their graduation ceremony in a symbolic show of solidarity with the campaign for greater democracy.

Sung said back then that he respected the students’ opinions and freedom of expression.

“Why has his attitude changed so much when he is about to step down? Is it to please the Chinese government?” Chan asked.

Sung, a renowned gastroenterology specialist and Sars hero, will retire from his post in 2018.

“I feel a little bit emotional,” he said, as he spoke of returning to medical research after his term as vice chancellor ends.