Why PLA troops shelved their visit to CUHK campus

May 07, 2015 15:28
CUHK is a place for free discussion and the pursuit of learning. The presence of PLA soldiers would cast a chill on campus. Photos: HK govt, Xinhua

After Chinese University of Hong Kong graduates voiced their concern about a proposed visit by People's Liberation Army troops to the campus, the university suspended the visit at the last minute.

CUHK and the PLA apparently agreed on the suspension.

The move is consistent with the principle that the role of China's army in Hong Kong shouldn't go beyond the defense of the city, as provided in the Basic Law.

Article 14 states: "Military forces stationed by the Central People's Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region for defense shall not interfere in the local affairs of the Region."

Last month, the Postgraduate Student Association of CUHK, which is heavily dominated by students from mainland China, invited members to join a May 8 event described in the email invitations as a “People’s Liberation Army Hong Kong Garrison and CUHK students fellowship activity”.

It said dozens of PLA soldiers would visit the campus, attend classes and have lunch with vice chancellor Joseph Sung Jao-yiu.

Then off they would go to play basketball with CUHK students.

However, the event was kept a secret from most of the local students, and even the CUHK student union did not know about it.

There's no doubt that the PLA entering a university campus is a sensitive issue, even after Hong Kong has been under Chinese rule for almost 18 years.

The campus is a wellspring of the success of Hong Kong.

Freedom of expression and academic freedom prevail there, and students and scholars can conduct their studies and research without any external interference.

Students from everywhere, including those from the mainland, enjoy the same rights at CUHK.

On the other hand, the PLA, which serves the interests of the Communist Party of China, has the responsibility to maintain the nation's sovereignty in all aspects.

A visit by the PLA to the campus, even if a friendly one, would understandably trigger fears of pressure being brought to bear on academic freedom, even if only on a psychological level.

That's why 163 CUHK graduates backed an online petition titled "No PLA on the Campus".

While the response wasn't great, at least it drew the university's attention to the issue and led to the suspension of the visit.

The university said the suspension was due to "some students misunderstanding the purpose of the event", and thus the visit would fail to achieve its original purpose.

The suspension won't change the trend of Beijing trying to promote its educational mindset in Hong Kong.

In fact, its efforts are starting to bear fruit, as more students are being taught according to a curriculum influenced by Beijing, for example in Chinese history.

Earlier this week, hundreds of Hong Kong students gathered in Golden Bauhinia Square in Wan Chai to join an official flag-raising ceremony marking the 96th anniversary of the May Fourth Movement.

Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-Shing urged the students to develop a hunger to know more about the nation and its culture.

He positioned the May Fourth Movement as part of the country's cultural heritage.

Some students even said the movement's spirit is to respect and to accommodate.

However, for those who are familiar with Chinese history, the movement was in fact a national civic awakening led by students protesting against imperialism.

Thousands of students protested in Beijing on May 4, 1919, condemning the Chinese government's weak response to the Treaty of Versailles, which granted Japan territories in Shandong province that had been surrendered by Germany during World War I.

Tsang failed to mention how the movement's leaders pushed for a rejection of traditional Confucian values and the adoption of the western ideals of science and democracy to strengthen the Republic of China, which had been founded earlier in the decade.

Now, Hong Kong students seem to be ignoring the importance of this aspect of the movement, reflecting the success of the partial view of Chinese history as taught by Beijing and in Hong Kong schools.

As Lee Yee, a veteran Hong Kong-based commentator on China, wrote Wednesday, the "harmonious" version of May Fourth history indicates the authorities do not want our next generation to know the importance of democracy, so as to nurture them into Beijing loyalists who will accept all the policies handed down by the government.

It will take time to see whether such brainwashing in schools is effective, but Hongkongers should voice their concern about the kind of patriotic education to which the next generation is being subjected.

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EJ Insight writer