Saturday, August 27, 2011

The 818 Incident at HKU

The facts of the incident is now well-known.  The police certainly used excessive force to prevent some slogan-bearing students from getting anywhere close to Vice Premier Li Keqiang.  The students seemed intended to do nothing more than to show off their T-shirts with slogans and to shout loudly.  But they were treated as if they were enemies of society and violent rioters.

HKU was not wrong in inviting the Vice Premier to their celebration - other universities would probably love to do the same.  But there is something unsettling in HKU’s handling of the whole event.   It is unbecoming for a university to bend over backwards to try to please the powerful, the rich and the famous, at the same time slighting its own alumni, staff and students.  The obvious message is: what we care about is power, money and prestige, not knowledge, character and justice.

The saving grace is that some HKU students, staff and alumni have come out strongly against the incident, and that Prof. Tsui has now stood up bravely on the side of the students.  Even people in important positions, such as the head of a university, can make mistakes.  In fact, the higher the position, the bigger may be the mistake and the impact.  He should be criticized for allowing the incident to happen, but equally, he should be applauded for standing up to rectify the mistake.  He, and HKU, should be watched to see if the remorse is genuine.

The police and the government, on the other hand, is truly disappointing and disgusting.  They seemed determined to show Li that they are in control - powerful enough to prevent any criticisms and contrary opinions from troubling their master.  Their motto seems to be: (1) the master should see only positives, at all costs, (2) we don’t care about the citizens, particularly those with contrary views, (3) never admit any mistakes. 

On the other hand, we may simply be naive to expect otherwise.  We are deceiving ourselves when we believe that the police in Hong Kong is here to protect its citizens, to maintain the law and order of society.  We are equally wrong to believe that the government would at least try to represent and serve its citizens.  The reality is: they serve their masters in Beijing, not us. 

In this incident, there are lessons for us, particularly those of us in universities, but also for us citizens of Hong Kong. 


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