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Sign of Tensions in Hong Kong's Student Elections

Protesters give thumbs-down signs to mainland Chinese travellers during a demonstration inside a shopping mall in Hong Kong, February 15, 2015.
Protesters give thumbs-down signs to mainland Chinese travellers during a demonstration inside a shopping mall in Hong Kong, February 15, 2015.
Student Elections A Sign of Tensions in Hong Kong
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A student election in Hong Kong is showing the increasing tensions between students from China’s mainland and those from Hong Kong. The election took place last month at the University of Hong Kong. It followed the pro-democracy demonstrations last year in the former British territory.

Growing numbers of mainland Chinese students are crowding Hong Kong’s classrooms and universities. As their numbers increase, tensions with students raised in Hong Kong appear to be rising.

People walk inside the campus of the University of Hong Kong, February 17, 2015.
People walk inside the campus of the University of Hong Kong, February 17, 2015.

The University of Hong Kong has more mainland students than any other school in the city. Mainlanders represent about 16 percent of the university’s total student population.

The Student Union election there last month showed a sharp division between the two groups of students. Some students accused one candidate of being a spy for China’s Communist Party.

Nora Lam is a student and a reporter for the university’s television station. She says one pro-China supporter was especially unhappy with her reporting on the student election. She accused the supporter of placing the private contact information and identification numbers of her friends on Facebook as an attempt to pressure her.

In the days before the election, signs were hung from buildings on the University of Hong Kong grounds. One read, “To brainwashed Commie-loving Mainlanders, we despise you!” Other signs showed images of a student candidate next to former Chinese leader Mao Zedong. The candidate has earlier reported that his grandfather was a member of the Communist Party.

One Chinese government-operated newspaper accused the Hong Kong students of McCarthyism. Joseph McCarthy was an American politician who targeted suspected Communists in the United States during the 1950s.

The “People’s Daily” newspaper protested that mainland Chinese students were “being treated unfairly as collateral targets.” More recently, a Chinese official announced that Hong Kong must protect the security and dignity, or self-respect, of visitors from the mainland.

Albert Chau is the Dean of Students at the University of Hong Kong. He says relations between the two groups of students remain strong. But he adds that limited housing for students has caused a problem. Housing requests from mainlanders were more likely to get accepted.

Mr. Chau says the university is working on strengthening relations between the two groups.

“There is still a lot of work for us to do to promote integration. But it is not just between local students and mainland students. I would say it is among students of all cultural backgrounds.”

Joseph Cheung is a professor at the City University of Hong Kong. He says tensions between mainland and Hong Kong youth have been rising for many years. He says this has led to competitiveness both in the classroom and student elections.

“There’s another level of tension, with regard to election of the student union. Local students tend to be very suspicious of mainland Chinese students running for the election of the student union presidency, and the cabinet and so on.”

He says the pro-democracy protests show the increasing division in Hong Kong schools and in society. Last month, students voted to split from the Hong Kong Federation of Students, the city’s most influential student organization. The main reason: disagreements about the way the Occupy Central demonstrations were directed last year. Pro-democracy activists have said they plan acts of civil disobedience in the weeks to come.

I’m Jill Robbins.

This report was based on a story from reporter Shannon Van Sant. George Grow wrote it for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.


Words in This Story

election – n., the process of election by voting

territory – n., a large area of land

spy – n., one who watches others secretly; a person employed by a government to get secret information about another country

candidate – n., a person who seeks or is nominated for an office or an honor

Now it’s your turn. Write us a comment with your opinion on the student tensions in Hong Kong, or on a similar situation in your country.