The situation in Hong Kong has evolved dramatically since it began its current phase in June 2019. What started out as a very large mass protests against the decisions of senior Hong Kong functionaries, undertaken with the knowledge of the central government, has now become mired in a complex and fluid expression of popular discontent that has spilled out along many fronts. That discontent has veered into violence and has been met by violence. At the same time, both the central authorities and the various protest factions have sought to both reach out to and blame the "black hand" of foreign interest in the situation of Hong Kong (our discussion here
). More than that, of course, some states have sought to change their own state's positions with respect to Chinese relations on the basis of the way the situation in Hong Kong develops (see, e.g., here)
. And it has brought into play international norms and actors as well (e.g., here
The result has been a tremendously large spectacle amplified by the press and social media outlets, all of which has captured global attention. The recent actions by the National Basketball Association, the Chinese state, and a variety of famous people all seeking to manage a narrative suitable to its needs, and the resulting acts of resistance, have played out in ways that have suggested the intimate connection between local Hong Kong issues, global trade, and their alignment to apparently fundamentally irreconcilable political-economic models (e.g., here
). That has certainly been the case in the context of China U.S. relations, at least form the perspective of the US Congress (e.g., here
All of this has been well covered and requires little commentary.Far less noticed, and worthy of substantial analysis, is the role of the university, and university stakeholders (particularly administration and faculty stakeholders) in shaping and responding to the evolving situation in Hong Kong. It is not for nothing that the university remains a central actor. Many people drawn to the protesting groups are or have strong ties the Hong Kong universities and their networks. Faculty has sought to engage in the situation in Hong Kong (e.g. here
But perhaps most important, the central authorities have made clear, almost from the beginning, that they lay the blame, at least in part, on the university for the situation in Hong Kong. We have drawn attention to this in earlier commentary.
"Therefore, I feel that school education and family education must have a correct guidance. We must strengthen the patriotism education and national education of Hong Kong youth, and let them understand their country and themselves comprehensively, deeply and objectively from an early age. The nation, understand its own history and culture. The whole society should care about the healthy growth of young people and create a good, harmonious, stable and rule of law environment for the healthy growth of young people. The youth of Hong Kong are also young people of China. The youth of Hong Kong is the future of Hong Kong and the future of the country. The Central Government is always paying attention to the growth of young people in Hong Kong. (Statement by the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council Official Views of Current State of Affairs in Hong Kong [国务院港澳办新闻发言人介绍对当前香港事态的看法]).
University students and alumni have focused on the university as a front in the controversy. It was reported on 18 October that "Thousands of University of Hong Kong graduates have passed a resolution calling for Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, an HKU alumna, to resign as varsity chancellor, saying she has – in her own words – “caused unforgivable havoc” to the city." University of Hong Kong graduates vote by landslide in support of resolution calling on city leader Carrie Lam to resign as varsity chancellor.
But it does remain a battle front: "A group of 45, made up of pro-Beijing figures and a former senior official, said the resolution violated HKU’s statutes on the convocation and called for the “offending part” on Lam’s responsibility for the crisis to be removed."
University administrations have not remained silent. They have also responded, especially as the character of the interactions have become more violent and also less restrained on the part of officials and protestors. That response is well worth considering for the way in which it suggests the social and political role of the university, as well as the evolution of its sense of obligation to stakeholders and the ways in which it must manifest its mission. One gets a sense of the current state of that response, as well as its evolving nature, in the "Open Letter" circulated by Chinese University of Hong Kong Vice Chancellor and resident Professor Rocky S. Tuan 段崇智
, to the CUHK community on 18 October 2019. That "Open Letter" follows below in Chinese and English along with my own brief comments. Whatever one thinks of this position and approach, one thing is quite clear: the way that universities view the scope of their mission to their students and as social actors, at least this one and at least in Hong Kong, appears to be changing. And that also be be a consequence of the evolving situation in Hong Kong.