HKUST violence sends chills

Rioters commit vandalism in Kowloon, Hong Kong on October 6. Photo: Xinhua

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Mainland students are facing a rising terror-like atmosphere at Hong Kong universities, as radical local black-clad protesters politicize the campus where academic freedom is at risk, heavily weighing on the future of the Oriental Pearl‘s education.

During a dialogue between Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) president Wei Shyy and students on Wednesday night, a student from the Chinese mainland, who was accused of pushing a masked protester, was beaten by a crowd of protesters. Even when security guards tried to maintain order and protect him, black-clad students knocked his head and attacked him with an umbrella. 

Using an umbrella while beating others is the way ers cover their “dirty work,” as they often attack ordinary people who disagree with them at street protests in the past few months. Rioters, who turned the campus into a battleground, also exposed the mainland student‘s personal information on social media and took his belongings, like his identity card, credit card and Exit-Entry Permit for Traveling to and from Hong Kong and Macao SARs, several HKUST students who witnessed the incident told the Global Times on Thursday. 

The scene shocked the public, who urged an end to the violence at the Hong Kong campus. This was the first incident that rioters resorted to “vigilante justice” on campus, as the use of violence has been constantly growing in the city. The brutal beating caused the forehead of the mainland student, surnamed Zheng, to bleed, as seen on video. 

Some protesters accused Zheng of pushing another protester to the ground. 

Around 7 pm on Wednesday, Zheng was ready to leave, but when he passed by a group of black-clad students, a female student suddenly hurled insults at him. When he walked down the aisle, a masked man in black approached him and suddenly fell to the ground, some witnesses told the Global Times. Later, the man claimed that Zheng had pushed him, but Zheng‘s hands remained inside his pockets, according to the video footage.

An HKUST alumnus surnamed Cao, who is part of a research team at the university, was attending the dialogue at that time. He told the Global Times on Thursday that a large number of masked black-clad students demanded that the president condemn police “violence.” 

Another mainland student said he felt helpless when seeing Zheng was beaten, “and we dared not rush into the crowd, nor did the security guards or university leaders. The police were not allowed to enter the campus. Nobody could help us and we only saw the wobbling black umbrellas,” he told the Global Times. 

The vigilante-style attack has been prevailing among hardcore rioters, who take justice into their own hands by beating others who disagree with the anti-government movement. Such violence has also prompted fears in increasingly divided campuses.

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2020 released in September lists almost 1,400 universities across 92 countries and regions. Six are Hong Kong universities: Hong Kong University, University of Science and Technology, CUHK, City University, Polytechnic University and Baptist University.

Only Hong Kong University moved up one place, ranking 35th. CUHK dropped from 53rd to 57th, the University of Science and Technology down from 41st to 47th, and City and Polytechnic also declined.  

Rising violence sparked by divided views aroused concerns that Hong Kong universities may continue to be less competitive in the near future, as the political movement has also placed academic freedom at risk. 

A professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic University told the Global Times that the current atmosphere in the university is “irritating,” as local students come to class with masks and stick anti-government slogans around the campus.

He said many local teachers have shown excessive sympathy toward students, while students are so arrogant that they have gone to the extreme. While the opinions in Hong Kong are often controlled by the opposition and foreign forces, the students know how to create media sensation. 

“The presidents of universities will then bear the pressure from the court, which comprises both university and lay members. Lay members come from different parts of society and are also affected by public opinion. This makes students completely lawless,” the professor said, who preferred not to be named. 

Such incidents have aroused concerns that it might not be the only attack on campus as the social unrest continues, and some mainland students have been considering taking temporary leave or transferring to mainland colleges.

Whether university presidents could stay neutral also remains a major question, some mainland students said. Kong Lingming, a master student at HKUST, told the Global Times after the dialogue on Wednesday that the president visited a local Hong Kong student who claimed to fall down when the guards were maintaining the order, but without showing any sympathy to Zheng, who had also been severely threatened after the attack. 

A mother of an 11-year-old told the Global Times that she was saddened after seeing the video of a mainland students being suppressed amid social turbulence in Hong Kong. 

“All mothers share the same feeling. We won‘t let our child suffer from such pain,” she said, noting that Hong Kong campuses are not places anymore for concentrating on studies and academic research. 

Chen Qingqing and Wang Wenwen contributed to this story 


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