I was away from Hong Kong for several weeks and internet connection was available only once in a while. When I learned through my mobile phone that Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun had come under attack from leftist newspapers, my heart really ached.
Professor Chan has been my longtime colleague, and whenever I came across any legal issue I always turned to him for advice. He is a very pragmatic academic and I respect him a lot.
If I was working or living on the mainland, I would definitely not write this article because my friends would probably advise me against it given the current political atmosphere.
That is the unique political culture on the mainland and it should be seen in its historical context. It is difficult to understand unless you are actually living there.
I have been studying the education issue in China since forever and I still find it hard to figure out China, just like my mainland friends who find it difficult to figure out Hong Kong.
Therefore, one might get it totally wrong if he or she judges the situation on the mainland with a Hong Kong mindset. Likewise, using a mainland mindset to judge Hong Kong affairs is also prone to mistakes.
There are several critical points here:
Firstly, some critics describe the law faculty of the University of Hong Kong as an institution that only specializes in organizing political activities, and such allegation is totally unfounded. When did the law faculty ever take part in any political activity?
In fact, every colleague that I get in contact with at the HKU law school is working on their own unique and remarkable academic researches regardless of their ethnicity, nationality or academic background.
It would definitely be unfair or even an insult to the academics working in the law school if one accuses the entire faculty of getting involved in political activities too much simply because a couple of its staff members were leaders of the Occupy Movement.
Secondly, what a law academic focuses on is not necessarily related to politics, unless he or she specializes in constitutional studies, which is the strength of the HKU law school.
And it is common among academics who study political systems to have different political views. For example, Professor Albert Chen Hung-yee, who is also a famous academic at the HKU law school, has an entirely different political view from Professor Johannes Chan’s.
However, it doesn’t stop them from being friends and everyone in the legal sector respects their opinions. This is exactly what is so special about the intellectual community: there will be no advancement in knowledge if there isn’t any debate.
Therefore, even though law academics have various opinions about the Occupy Movement, there has never been any split in the intellectual community because intellectual debates are absolutely normal in the academic world.
Thirdly, it is normal among academics in universities to have their own political views because no matter what their views are, they never get in the way of their jobs, nor will they get in the way of their employment and promotion because there has never been such thing as political censorship in our universities.
Academics with different political views never find it hard to work together closely on teaching and research because it is just the way it should be, or else a university is not a university anymore.
Even in mainland universities, academics can always debate freely with one another on the campus — at least for now. In Hong Kong, intellectuals can express their own political opinions in public or take part in any political activity freely without any intervention from their superiors in their universities simply because this is not supposed to be a concern for the university management, nor is it the job of a dean to act as a political “gatekeeper”.
Fourthly, a university dean should always be judged on whether he or she can explore new frontiers academically, attract new resources, speak up for his or her staff, defend the academic integrity and dignity of the faculty, as well as achieve academic distinction, etc. One’s political views or political life is never a factor for consideration.
As far as Professor Chan is concerned, his professional achievements speak volumes, and his background as a democrat never gets in the way of his job.
Moreover, Professor Chan is both democratic and pragmatic. Even prior to the Occupy Movement, when the debate over the 2017 political reform was already in full swing, his suggestions over the veto power of Beijing were both moderate and feasible.
In fact, what he suggested, like the proposal brought forward by his colleague Professor Albert Chen recently, was aimed at fostering further discussions and providing an alternative for the public to consider. Why should he come under attack and be held guilty for offering a different proposal?
Lastly, and most importantly, for a long time, Professor Chan has been putting a lot of effort into training mainland judges in common law. He has also provided the judiciary on the mainland with a lot of experience and material over the use of common law, something much needed in the course of our country’s economic reforms.
Isn’t it a pity that a world-renowned institution like the HKU law faculty, which has stood the test of time, something rarely seen on Chinese soil, suddenly becomes the target of a smear campaign just for political purposes, regardless of the truth and the social culture of Hong Kong?
Does anybody really think that a well-respected academic like Professor Chan would give in to pressure and abandon his own convictions just because of a few pieces of articles and commentaries?
Does anybody really expect that the people of Hong Kong would join this smear campaign?
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 6.
Translation by Alan Lee
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