Foul-mouthed performance at Lingnan University concert raises questions about Hong Kong's core values

Alice Wu says we should use this as an opportunity to examine the limits of our freedoms by advocating responsible speech and actions

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 May, 2015, 12:06am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 May, 2015, 12:06am

Lingnan University has got a bad "rep" lately from a bad rap - F-k the Police - performed at a university concert. It is true that art has often been considered controversial, but as a song or performance, it wasn't very impressive. If anything, the band showed a complete lack of creativity, artistry and originality. Stringing together a bunch of expletives and insults doesn't really count as a creative expression of anything.

What it did perhaps illuminate, though, is the poverty of ways in which Hongkongers channel dissatisfaction. Though researchers have found that letting curses fly helps people get through pain, the song wasn't exactly about stubbing a toe. It was directed not only at the police force, but also their families. The outrage it caused came from beyond the force, understandably so. The hate it channelled is deeply disturbing. To hear university students cheer when death is wished on the families of the police force, and calling officers' daughters whores doesn't make for a proud moment for anyone.

It's not a celebration of our freedoms of speech and expression. All too often, the responsibilities that come with our rights are too conveniently ignored, but the fact remains that with power, rights and freedoms come responsibility.

And that is the reason having a former Lingnan University council chairman, Bernard Chan, offer an apology on behalf of the university is completely missing the point. Taking, or even volunteering to take, the "rap" isn't wrong, per se, and maybe it's meant to be a good damage control tactic, but the buck isn't meant to stop there. At the end of the day, it's not just about apologising to those who felt offended. At the heart of the matter is the misappropriation of emotions, blame and rights. Taking the rap does nothing to address these issues.

As we celebrate the May Fourth spirit and ideals of individualism and the freedom of independent expression, perhaps it is also a good day for the Lingnan community to begin an honest reflection of how the latest controversy, and its reaction, go against its vision, mission and core values.

Where does hate speech fit into its vision of "an internationally recognised liberal arts university distinguished by outstanding teaching, learning, scholarship and community engagement"? How is Chan taking the rap "nurturing all-round excellence … [such as] socially responsible values and leadership"? And, indeed, how has the school's response been one that adheres to its proclaimed core value of "build[ing] a community of learning and discovery [that] accept[s] responsibility for their words and deeds"?

This is a call for the Lingnan community to make this incident an education moment, not only for Lingnan, but for the city. This can be an opportunity for all to examine the limits of our freedoms, to do a bit of heavy intellectual lifting by shouldering the weight of responsible speech and actions, and to cultivate real meaning to the words - whether it be core values or angry rants - that we too often throw around too lightly and quickly without really understanding and investigating what they mean.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA