24 October 2016
Joseph Sung (inset left) has invoked the name of historian and educator Ch'ien Mu (inset right) while criticizing the anti-China actions of some Hong Kong people. Photos: HK government, HKEJ, wikipedia
Joseph Sung (inset left) has invoked the name of historian and educator Ch'ien Mu (inset right) while criticizing the anti-China actions of some Hong Kong people. Photos: HK government, HKEJ, wikipedia

Why is the CUHK chief trying to please Beijing?

Joseph Sung, the vice chancellor of Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), has never been shy about wading into politically charged issues and offering his comments on topics he deems important. 

In keeping with his reputation, the university chief has now jumped into the debate over the recent controversy surrounding Hong Kong football fans and their booing of the Chinese national anthem.

In a blog post titled “Dignity and Respect”, Sung wrote that it saddened his heart to see that Hong Kong people had booed the national anthem during the World Cup qualifier soccer match with China last month.

He also wrote that he was “deeply disturbed” to learn that some CUHK students had acted disrespectfully to the anthem as they watched the Nov. 17 match on television at the campus.

In the group-watching event, some mainland students stood up as the national anthem was being played, but another set of students at the gathering were said to have booed loudly.

“It is absolutely improper and unacceptable to insult the National Anthem of our own as well as those of others,” Sung wrote in the post that was uploaded Thursday.

Towards the end of the article, Sung invoked Ch’ien Mu (commonly referred to as Master Ch’ien), the renowned philosopher and educator who had been a co-founder of Hong Kong’s New Asia College, to remind students that they are all Chinese.

New Asia College is one of the founding member institutions of CUHK.

In Ch’ien’s final lecture delivered at his Sushulou residence in Taiwan, he is said to have told his students: “You are Chinese. Don’t forget China!”

Ch’ien, an anti-Communism historian and Confucian, relocated to Taiwan in 1967 after arriving in Hong Kong in 1949 following the establishment of the People’s Republic in the mainland. 

CUHK is closely associated with traditional Chinese culture, given the links with New Asia College and its background.

By invoking remarks made by Ch’ien many years ago, Sung was apparently trying to instill awareness among locals about the history and culture they share with China.

But what he didn’t mention was the fact that the Communists, after assuming power following a civil war, took a hostile approach to traditional Chinese culture, especially the Confucianism that Ch’ien admired.

Ch’ien and some other well-known scholars escaped the Communist Party rule and came to Hong Kong, where they established New Asia College in Mongkok.

In October 1967, the scholar moved to Taiwan after accepting an invitation from the island’s then President Chiang Kai-shek, and lived there until he passed away in 1990 at the age of 95.

It’s fair to say that Ch’ien never recognized the legitimacy of the Communist Party regime in Mainland China. 

Otherwise, he wouldn’t have left the country for Hong Kong, and later Taiwan, which he regarded as the places that could truly preserve traditional Chinese culture.

Given this piece of history, Sung was off the mark in using Ch’ien’s name to urge Hongkongers to be more respectful toward the motherland.

While Sung argued that the “March of the Volunteers” is a song of solidarity against invaders, its meaning has completely changed after it was adopted as the national anthem.

That is because the regime of the Communist Party was founded on the fight against fellow Chinese in a civil war, and not invaders.

What Ch’ien referred to be “Chinese” can be taken as the Chinese people living under the Republic of China government, not those under the rule of People’s Republic.

From the perspective of many traditional Chinese intellectuals, the People’s Republic regime marked a downfall of traditional Chinese culture.

The national anthem, meanwhile, brings uncomfortable memories to some people who fled to Hong Kong after the Communist takeover of China.

Moving to the present context, there is also anger in Hong Kong as Beijing appears to be going back on its commitment to the “one country, two systems” and forcing the former British colony to embrace the Communist rule.

Amid this situation, it shouldn’t be surprising that some people chose to boo the national anthem as a way to express their anger and depth of feelings about the political situation.

While Sung is right in calling for respect for the national anthem, he should have taken care not to appear one-sided and lining up behind Beijing. 

The university chief, who has won high praise in the past for various actions and the role he played in helping the city fight the SARS crisis in 2003, is expected to be impartial on sensitive issues related to China and Hong Kong.

But now it appears that he is focusing more on being politically correct as he serves a second term as CUHK vice chancellor after winning a contract extension last year.

Given his outburst over the issue of the national anthem, questions will be raised whether Sung has put his own interests above that of students’ freedom of expression.

Such actions could erode the good reputation he earned over the years and make people see him as a member of the pro-Beijing camp.

That is something that Sung himself would surely not want.

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EJ Insight writer

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