City University students deny teacher took class in Mandarin

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 October, 2013, 1:03pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 October, 2013, 9:01am

A number of City University of Hong Kong students have rebuffed a news report that claimed mainland and local students verbally clashed repeatedly in the classroom after mainland students demanded a teacher hold his class in Mandarin instead of in Cantonese.

The class at the centre of the reported row was the Essential Concepts in Chinese Culture, a core course for all students of the Master of Arts in Chinese programme. Hong Kong-based Apple Daily on Saturday said the course lecturer, supposedly teaching the class in Cantonese according to class guidelines, used Mandarin extensively after some Mandarin-speaking mainland students urged him to do so.

The report then cited local students in the class as saying the conduct, amid local students’ protests, ultimately escalated into repeated, intense quarrels with students from across the border.

"No quarrels took place at all," five mainland students enrolled in the class told the South China Morning Post. “The report overwhelmingly exaggerated [the fact].”

They said several students approached course lecturer Dr Chan Hok Yin in the very first class of the semester asking if he could speak Mandarin, but the professor declined the request citing the rules. “Things moved on and nobody ever publicly complained about this ever again,” one student said.

The students also rejected the Apple Daily’s claim that lecturer Chan taught bilingually and “paused to translate into Mandarin once every three or four sentences.”

“Professor Chan used only minimal Mandarin to briefly explain some important key terms during his lectures,” a student said. In each course, which lasts two hours and fifty minutes, Chan spent “less than 10 minutes” speaking Mandarin Chinese Culture class, students said.

The mainland students spoke to the Post on the condition of anonymity, as they feared becoming “a punching bag of worsened Mainland-Hong Kong relationships”, as one student put it.

Chan denied there was “dispute” among his students, he wrote in an email. “I strongly oppose any interpretations of any positive interactions [among students] as ‘conflicts’,” Chan said in the statement.

“Considering most of the sixty per cent of mainland students in my class did not understand any Cantonese, I sometimes used Mandarin to explain key terms during my lectures,” he said.

“But it is not fair to say that I taught my class in both Cantonese and Mandarin, nor that the conduct significantly impacted my teaching progress.”

City University’s online class directory, which most student consult before enrolling in classes, does not state what language, whether Cantonese or Mandarin, is used as the teaching language for most of the compulsory courses.

According to the one-year MA programme’s curriculum, Chan’s class is taught in Cantonese in the first semester and Mandarin in the second.

A student from Hubei province said she was surprised to find that the majority of her teachers only used Cantonese only after she arrived in Hong Kong. “At least 20 students I know of were in the same situation as me,” she said.

Because the programme’s course schedule only gives students limited choices in taking five obligatory courses each semester, many students had no choice but to take Chan’s class in the first semester, even though some of them did not understand Cantonese.

However, these students maintained that most of the Mandarin-speaking students had long accepted their situation. They said they had been working hard to learn Cantonese and were getting on well with the local students in class.

The class’ lecturer Chan and school could not be reached for comment on Monday.