Hong Kong Basic Law

Two Hong Kong students kicked out of graduation ceremony after not standing for national anthem

The social work students from Hong Kong College of Technology sat silently while March of the Volunteers played during ceremony at Ma On Shan campus

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 December, 2017, 6:15am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 December, 2017, 10:46am

Two Hong Kong college students were kicked out of their own graduation ceremony on Saturday after refusing to stand for the national anthem.

The social work students from Hong Kong College of Technology sat silently while March of the Volunteers played during the ceremony at a Ma On Shan campus, defying a new school rule which defines disrespecting the national anthem as misconduct.

School staff cut the anthem short not long after it had begun, having noticed not everyone was standing. The two seated graduands were ordered to leave.

More than 10 students at the ceremony walked out to show support to the pair. All of the students were reportedly not awarded their certificates. The ceremony resumed after some disruption, which lasted about 20 minutes.

The president and principal of the institution, Chan Cheuk-hay, spoke to the students after the ceremony.

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One student told him: “That we sat down [during the anthem] did not mean we don’t respect the national anthem. And if we sang the song, it would not mean we loved the country.

“We don’t understand why the school rejected the social work students it trained up during the graduation ceremony just because of a national song.”

The students said they understood the situation in the country well and held that the Chinese government was not serving the people and that they, as social work students, should speak out.

But Chan said the institution, established as Mongkok Workers’ Night School in 1957 and led by a board with Beijing-friendly members, had always loved the country and the city.

He said: “The [college] is an institution which loves the country and Hong Kong. It has been upholding the patriotic flag and this is uncompromising.

“And we never retreated even under colonial rule, during which we were suppressed … if you didn’t know about this during your admission, you have picked the wrong school.”

Pro-establishment lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun said she was glad to see a school setting rules to make it clear to students how to respect the national anthem. She said it was in keeping with a law against disrespecting the national anthem, which the government hopes to enact soon.

“School regulations are the best way to make students get used to respecting their own country. I appreciate the principal very much,” Leung said.

Pan-democratic legislator Shiu Ka-chun, who opposes the anthem legislation, said educators should not serve their political ends over educational goals.

“The biggest problem here is that the school is covering up the educational missions with their political missions,” Shiu said. “Should a Catholic school demand all students convert?”

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In recent years different forms of protest during the anthem at graduation ceremonies have become common. But Saturday’s was the first case of students being kicked out for insufficient respect.

At the graduation ceremony on the same site in November last year, Chan scolded students for “insulting the anthem”after some social work graduands raised signs during the song, protesting 2016’s interpretation of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee.