by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: 改革校委，驅逐沙皇
STUDENTS AT the University of Hong Kong (HKU) are on strike, with demonstration against the appointment of Arthur Li as head of HKU’s governing Council. Demonstrations have included struggles with the police during an incident last night in which students surrounded a meeting of the Council chaired by Li. There are unconfirmed reports that pepper spray was used during these demonstrations. The student strike is scheduled to last the week.
Li, known as the “Education Czar” in Hong Kong, is a controversial figure. Li, the former Secretary for Education and Manpower from 2002 to 2007, was appointed chairman of the council of the University of Hong Kong by current Hong Kong executive C.Y. Leung, the antagonist of 2014’s Umbrella Movement. Li is also a member of the Executive Council of Hong Kong, the central governing body of Hong Kong.
Arthur Li is an unpopular figure because of past actions against higher education institutions in Hong Kong. In the past, Li proposed a merger between the Chinese University of Hong Kong and and the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Li had also proposed the merger of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong University of Education. Li is also known for his pro-Beijing viewpoints, the probable reason for his appointment by Leung.
As indicated by polling, Li’s appointment was opposed by an apparent majority of HKU alumni, who saw him as an unsatisfactory candidate. The present student strike was preceded by demonstration of more than 3,000 against Li’s appointment earlier this month and included the participation of Umbrella Movement figures such as Benny Tai.
Struggling with the police last night. Film credit: Campus TV, H.K.U.S.U. 香港大學學生會校園電視
In particular, the past year saw controversy over the rejection of the appointment of Johannes Chan as vice-chancellor of HKU. Namely, although Chan was unanimously recommended for the post of vice-chancellor by a committee, it appears that Chan’s closeness to pan-democratic political figures was impeding to his appointment. This was seen as retaliation against Chan for standing up to Beijing in the past. This was also an incident in which it appeared as though the majority of alumni supported Chan, seen as a qualified candidate for the post, but this was impeded for political reasons.The opposite situation would seem to be taking place now, with Li’s appointment because of his pro-Beijing political views.
If it was that in the past year Hong Kong’s youth made their entrance onto the political scene, since the Umbrella Movement until the present, much of what is in the background of present events is the question of how young people in Hong Kong relate to the diminishing of their freedoms as a result of encroachment from Beijing. Thus, if we are to view the present student strike as a product of such tensions, is this is a result of longstanding tensions between Hong Kong and China over the issue of autonomy?
Certainly, though the issue has not been often been phrased in such terms during the student strike itself, we see the issue of diminishing academic freedoms in Hong Kong as a result of Beijing’s influence. There are a host of other issues at stake in present demonstrations, including also the key issues of university autonomy and now the use of police force against young people. Yet it does appear the central issue goes back how Hong Kong’s young actively resists Beijing’s rule. Education has become another site of contestation about autonomy for Hong Kong.