Hong Kong’s Independence Movement and Mainland Retaliations

On September 4, 2017, the students of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, also known as CUHK, found multiple posters supporting Hong Kong’s independence movement on their campus. These posters were hung on the “Democracy Wall” where students could express their political thoughts freely. The signs read “Fight For Our Homeland, Fight For Hong Kong Independence.” In addition to these posters, many banners were also found around campus.

Mounting tension reached a climax the next day. On September 5, a student from mainland China tore the posters from the wall – displaying the continuity of the conflict between mainlanders and residents of Hong Kong. This is a common feature of the student body dynamic at Chinese educational institutions; often, the long history of animosity between mainland Chinese and natives of Hong Kong causes tension between these two groups. After the tearing down of the poster, the members of CUHK’s student union stopped the girl from further action and verbally chastised her in Cantonese (the primary language spoken in Hong Kong). They argued over whether or not the girl had the right to remove the posters from the wall. The student government members continued to insist that, because of the nature of the Democracy Wall, people are free to post anything they want, while the girl emphasized that as such, she must also have the right to take things off. Later when the media interviewed the girl, she admitted that she had been afraid of being exposed by the student body.

The responses to this event varied – after the media reported the news, the girl was applauded by many mainland students and vilified by supporters of independence. Still, her action prompted similar responses by many of her fellow mainlanders – in a matter of days, the Democracy Wall was covered with signs and slogans in opposition to the student union and pro-independence groups.

In response to this event, CUHK’s principal announced that supporting Hong Kong’s independence was not only against the law but also violated his own expectations of university students. He spoke of his firm opinion that Hong Kong is and should remain a part of China, and expressed his wish that the university be a place to pursue knowledge, not political debate. Many of China’s other schools and public universities have responded to this event and to the recent events at CUHK, most of which convey a pro-mainland sentiment and even suggest that such exercise of free speech as seen on the Democracy Wall should be regarded as a crime.