My Take

It's time to re-read Sun Tzu, Professor Arthur Li

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 April, 2015, 6:56am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 April, 2015, 6:56am

Arthur Li Kwok-cheung has always had many enemies. I met one of them a long time ago when Li quit as head of the Chinese University to become education minister under chief executive Tung Chee-hwa.

That person, a one-time senior medical professor, called me to his private clinic in Central promising to give me the lowdown. I can't remember any of the dirt he told me about Li, all of which sounded more like unpleasantness about the guy than genuine shenanigans. I did remember his claim that Li always had a copy of Sun Tzu's Art of War for bedside reading like most people do with the Bible. I had no idea if it was true, but for a man who provoked so much hostility in the local higher education community and far beyond, it seemed like essential reading.

But judging from his recent behaviour and public pronouncements against academics and students at the University of Hong Kong, it seems Li has never read - or if read, never understood - that classic military text counselling the indirect approach over frontal assault, and guile over outright aggression.

It's barely a month since he joined the council of the University of Hong Kong and already academic staff and students have drawn knives and called for blood. HKU's Academic Staff Association has flagged a poll in which more than four in five surveyed wanted him to quit the university's governing body.

Some 85 per cent of 152 employees polled said they had "no confidence" Li's role on the council would benefit HKU, while 87 per cent said he was unsuitable to be the next chairman, a post he has been tipped to take over later this year.

Granted, his job is not to win a popularity contest. But it appears he has gone out of his way to show ill will towards the university from day one. The latest salvo has him on TVB blaming HKU academics who draw public salary and "disappear off into Neverland" for its decline in global ranking. He also said its students who took part in Occupy Central just wanted to appear as heroes to their girlfriends and were not academically gifted.

If it's academic reform he is after, there are subtler ways besides upsetting the apple cart and scaring the kids from day one. It's time to re-read Sun Tzu, Professor Li.