The real reason for Hong Kong students' fear and loathing of the PLA

Michael Chugani doesn't believe Hong Kong university students are so gullible that a social visit by the PLA could brainwash them

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 May, 2015, 1:47pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 May, 2015, 6:26pm

Next month marks the 26th anniversary of the June 4 Tiananmen crackdown. The late Deng Xiaoping , whom we all like to refer to as the visionary paramount leader who opened up China and gave us "one country, two systems", ordered the suppression of the mass uprising. But etched in our minds is not so much who gave the order, but who carried it out. No one watching the bloodbath unfold that night can forget the graphic images of the People's Liberation Army crushing mostly unarmed demonstrators.

Students now at the Chinese University of Hong Kong weren't born when the PLA put down the uprising 26 years ago in 1989. But their loathing of the PLA is such that, last week, the university's student union thwarted a planned visit to the campus by about 100 PLA garrison soldiers stationed here for a ball game and other social activities, for no reason other than that it was the PLA.

Here is what the head of the student union, Wong Ching-fung, said: "The garrison is supposed to observe its sole duty of defending the city, not join social activities." In other words, I despise you, but make sure you protect me from being nuked. Why such apprehension? It's just a ball game, after all. American sailors routinely take part in social activities with locals when US warships visit. Well, Chinese University students somehow have it in their heads that the PLA visit was to meddle in academic freedom by stealth.

I have neither the desire to defend the PLA nor to whitewash its role in the violent 1989 crackdown. It has always been my belief that Beijing owes its own people and the world a full accounting of that tragic event. But it puzzles me why our students so lack self-confidence that they would prevent PLA soldiers - who probably were also not born 26 years ago - from visiting for fear they would be brainwashed.

Aren't our students the independent thinkers who fronted the Occupy movement? Surely, they're smart enough to instantly recognise meddling in their academic freedom. Yet, again and again, Hongkongers make themselves out to be a gullible lot easily susceptible to brainwashing. Commentator Johnny Lau Yui-siu even feared that national education was the goal behind the government's plan to follow Beijing in making this September 3 a holiday to mark the 70th anniversary of the Japanese surrender. Are Hongkongers so easily influenced that a bonus day off would make them more patriotic?

We need to face up to the root reason why the Chinese University student union blocked the PLA visit. Yes, it sees the PLA as having blood on its hands, but more so it sees it as part of a repressive Chinese communist regime. The union had, in fact, described the PLA as "the claws of the Chinese national machinery".

It all goes back to the question I've asked here before: are we fighting for Hong Kong democracy or against China's Communist Party? Unlike the cold war, in Hong Kong's case, it is foolhardy to equate democracy with defeating Chinese communism. All Hongkongers, students included, need to accept this reality.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and TV show host. [email protected]