Words matter in Hong Kong – perhaps more than human rights


Sometimes it’s the little things that give you away. One of the Chief Executive’s recent announcements of new measures to control Covid was: “every measure we introduce now has been undertaken in other jurisdictions, including some places and countries that are very proud of their human rights, their democracy, etc. to.”

Now, it might be unfair to infer that Carrie Lam now realizes that Hong Kong is no longer a place very proud of its “human rights, democracy, etc.” This is, after all, not the line our leaders have pushed to the foreign press, which is regularly chastised for suggesting that things have changed over the past year.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam meets the press on February 8, 2021 to announce the new Covid-19 social distancing rules. Photo: GovHK.

What struck me, however, was this little bit at the end: “and so on”. This is not how you conclude a list of things that are important to you.

Lam would not, for example, list the purposes of mandatory national security education as being to instill “patriotism, respect for the law, etc.” “. That would be disrespectfully flippant.

The United States Declaration of Independence does not begin with the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, etc.” “. The pope would not urge priests to strive for “poverty, chastity, obedience, etc.”

It’s an ending for things you don’t take very seriously, or even believe in at all. Donald Trump, for example, believes that in the last US presidential election, Joe Biden hacked voting machines, Mike Pence neglected his duty, millions of votes were fraudulent, etc.

That works.

A photo taken in late January shows Hong Kongers wearing face masks on the street in Central. Photo: GovHK.

This is not a criticism of the government’s latest anti-Covid measures. After wasting the long months when cases occurred only in isolated numbers or not at all, we now have to undertake a frantic effort to get the elderly vaccinated. In the meantime, there are no good choices.

What bothers me is knowing that human rights in Hong Kong – we have already given up on democracy – are in the hands of people who know little and care less about what they mean and what they require.

Which brings me to my esteemed former employer, Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU). So far, it must be said, the HKBU has avoided the worst excesses of the territory-wide repression against student representative bodies.

It has a long tradition — rooted, I suspect, in its origins as a religiously-leaning post-secondary college — of paying a little more respect and concern to the needs of undergraduate students than other local institutions.

Elsewhere, teaching is seen as an irritating distraction from the true function of universities, which is to produce research that stimulates staff perspectives and pushes the university to the top of rankings… which, for all their claims, do not measure up nothing else.

Hong Kong Baptist University. Photo: GovHK.

However, Baptist University still has a student union and therefore still has a student newspaper, or had one until January. This publication is or was called Jumbo – a play on the Cantonese name of the university, which is jumwui.

The latest edition, according to former assignments editor Alex Chan, caused problems with the university, which told editors it had received complaints about it from “people outside the college.” school”. Unfortunately, the university has not been open about who or what these people were, an interesting question.

After all, Jumbo isn’t exactly a mass-circulation publication. It is produced by students for students. Street vendors do not stock it. Why would anyone outside of the university read it? With all due respect to the editors’ efforts, I think we can rule out the possibility that there is a secret cabal of connoisseurs who view Jumbo as the unsung Château Lafite of student journalism.

Sexual desire takes very varied forms but one can also, I suppose, exclude a perverse erotic infatuation for amateur editorial production.

The January 2021 edition of Jumbo. Photo: Jumbo via Issuu.

This leads me to assume that the elusive reader was not looking for interesting information about the opinions of Baptist University students, but was hoping to extend to the student press the purge that has already decimated the adult media. In this they succeeded.

The problematic content, apparently, included an op-ed that included the phrase “The rule of law is dead, the student union is dead, Hong Kong is dead, freedom is dead.” News is just an anthology of obituaries. A little exaggerated, perhaps, but in essence a widely held view.

There was an article about a deceased actor and an interview about the election with a living HKBU staff member. Apparently, the term “Wuhan virus” didn’t sit well and the school wanted “clarifications” from a report on a flag-raising ceremony on campus.

The university ordered the removal of the January edition and also asked the board to remove calls for submissions from its social media.

HKBUSU Editorial Board Facebook page. Photo: Screenshot via Facebook.

The Editorial Board received the message when their email account was closed and their desktop emptied. The board then resigned en masse, which wasn’t a huge sacrifice as they only had a month left. The new board, assuming masochists can be recruited, will have to decide what to do with the January issue.

The university, meanwhile, was instructed by its lawyers to report the issue to the National Security Police as a possible violation of the National Security Act.

It’s not surprising. My experience of lawyers evaluating newspaper copy is that they never tell you for sure that the story is OK. You always get a “could be this, could be that” close and so on, for something more innovative than stock price.

Then we come to the most exciting part. “The HKBU also said it could not ‘promise to guarantee’ student safety if the editorial staff chose to publicly attribute its decision to resign to the university’s actions against the magazine’s January edition,” Chan said.

I hope, I really hope, that there has been a misunderstanding or a mistranslation here. If Chan finds a horse’s head in his bed next week, we’ll all know things are worse than we think. etc

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