17 July 2018
Eugenia, who is seeking a post at a Hong Kong University student body, has found her mainland identity become a major issue in the campaign. Photos: Weibo, HKEJ
Eugenia, who is seeking a post at a Hong Kong University student body, has found her mainland identity become a major issue in the campaign. Photos: Weibo, HKEJ

Mainland students become collateral targets

It wasn’t something that Eugenia Ye Lushan (葉璐珊) had bargained for when she enrolled at the University of Hong Kong two years ago.

Eugenia, who is pursuing a course at HKU’s Faculty of Business and Economics, got a rude shock last month when the university’s student-run Campus TV ran a story about her, pointing out that she had been a member of the Communist Youth League of China (中國共產主義青年團). 

The “expose” came as Eugenia was preparing to contest for the post of social secretary for the new executive body of the HKU Students Union, taking on several other contenders. 

In today’s highly politicized society marked by fear and distrust of the Communist Party, especially on university campuses, one can imagine the implications of such a report.

Along with insinuations about her loyalties, Eugenia — who hails from Guangzhou — was also accused of inviting a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference to a dinner party held on campus last year.

Following the report, Eugenia was overwhelmed by questions, during an election campaign debate last week, about her Communist identity and alleged links to the CPPCC member. 

One editor of the Students’ Union magazine Undergrad (學苑) – which came in for rebuke recently from Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying for advocating Hong Kong independence – said Eugenia deliberately tried to hide her Communist Youth League membership, and that her election bid may be a scheme orchestrated by Beijing’s Liaison Office to plant its ears and eyes in the Students’ Union.

The attacks prompted Eugenia to write an open letter on Jan. 25, saying that Hong Kong’s freedom and liberal society are the reasons she chose the territory for higher education, and that she didn’t expect her mainland identity to become an issue.

Noting that she couldn’t choose her place of birth, the sophomore said she doesn’t want to be subjected to a Cultural Revolution-style smear and interrogation environment.

According to her, she just wanted to participate in campus activities and see how a students’ union in Hong Kong functions differently from one in the mainland.

“Why can’t I run for a HKUSU post simply because I once wore a red scarf?” she questioned.

Red scarf (紅領巾) is the official symbol of the Communist Youth League and the Young Pioneers of China. In propaganda materials, it is emblematic of the blood of revolutionary communist martyrs.

Given the recent developments, it remains to be seen whether Eugenia will still stand any chance in the student body elections.

Campus battles

It is said that Eugenia is the first mainlander to run for a HKUSU post since HKU started admitting large batches of mainland students after the 1997 handover. Last academic year, 2,781 UGC-funded quotas at HKU were taken up by mainland freshmen.

On the HKU campus you can still see several of Eugenia’s campaign posters. In the picture she looks young, bright and pretty with a winsome smile. But one wonders whether she can still keep her smile given the questions thrown at her and even some hostility.

Consciously or otherwise, her surname is spelt in the Cantonese way of “Yip” rather than the Putonghua pronunciation of “Ye”.

Eugenia says she shares the same political stance as other members of the proposed cabinet of the Students’ Union, including ending the single party dictatorship in the mainland and opposing the enactment of Article 23 of the Basic Law.

But that hasn’t put a stop to the questions and doubts surrounding her in the minds of fellow students. 

Similar things have happened in Taiwan colleges too.

Last September, Cai Boyi (蔡博藝), a girl from China’s northwestern Gansu province who was among the first batch of mainland students in Taiwan, became a candidate for the students’ union president at Tamkang University (淡江大學).

Cai was also a member of the Communist Youth League before she went to Taiwan. Media reports fuelled the worry that Beijing may manipulate student organizations and even brainwash local students “through imperceptible but constant influence” from mainlanders like Cai.

During the election Cai’s mainland nationality was made public with a conspicuous Chinese national flag printed besides her name on the ballots.

Cai lost the election.

‘Original sin’

It seems a mainland identity, especially the Communist Youth League membership, is deemed as the “original sin” for students such as Eugenia and Cai.

But one should bear in mind that virtually all students in the mainland, from primary schools to high schools, are all required to join the group of Young Pioneers and the league.

Top students who score high marks in exams will be invited to join early while others may automatically become members at a later time. By comparison, there are more stringent procedures to become a Communist Party member.

Basically, the league almost has nothing to do with most students’ daily life and by any standard it is more a formality than a formal organization with concrete functions. The league exists in name only.

Eugenia is telling the truth when she says that “99 percent of mainland students in Hong Kong are also league members” and such membership means nothing at all.

It is well-known that local youth in Hong Kong and Taiwan are no fans of the Communist Party.

Beijing’s bullying and string-pulling with regard to the affairs of the two places have only deepened the sense of estrangement.

Given this situation, people like Eugenia, Cai and other mainland students have unfortunately become collateral targets. We can only hope that better sense prevails when emotions cool in the future.  

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Related articles:

Why is HKU community remaining silent?

Yvonne Leung steals the show at govt-student talks

Why Leung lambasted Undergrad

Leung opens Pandora’s box on independence

Why HK youth hate Leung even more after his policy speech

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EJ Insight writer

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