Hong Kong Politics & Protest

In Translation: Students test the limits of poster power after university removes pro-independence banners

Last week, posters calling for Hong Kong independence and mocking the death of the son of an unpopular official were posted on university campuses, sparking outrage from the public and pro-Beijing camp.

A group of 39 lawmakers signed a petition – one mistakenly –  demanding that authorities take action against those who had put up the posters, calling Hong Kong independence “illegal”. Chief Executive Carrie Lam said people had “abused” freedom of speech.

Pro-independence notices at CUHK

Pro-independence notices at CUHK. Photo: InMedia.

Over the following week, a variety of apparently satirical posters bearing unorthodox, or even extremist messages, appeared on campuses. Some have since been taken down.

As the debate over free speech continues to rage, HKFP translates a selection of the messages:

1. Mockery of Liu Xiaobo’s death

Education University was the site of the original poster “congratulating” Education Undersecretary Choi Yuk-lin on the death of her son last Thursday. Amid outrage, the university’s vice-chancellor held a press conference condemning the poster, and rumours spread that employers were cancelling internships for students from the university. Meanwhile, CCTV images of the two men who allegedly posted the messages were leaked to the media.

Liu Xiaobo Education University EdUHK Liu Xia

Photo: Screenshot.

Then last Saturday morning, a similar poster targeting a different individual – a recently deceased Chinese dissident and Nobel Prize winner – appeared on campus. “Congratulations to Liu Bandit Xiaobo on going west,” read the simplified Chinese message. “Congratulations to [his wife] Liu Xia on being forever house-imprisoned by our party.”

Passers-by told Ming Pao they believed that the people who put up the poster intended to test whether the university would react with the same vigour as it did against those who mocked Undersecretary Choi.

The university took down the poster on the same day, and condemned it in a statement — though not a press conference – following media enquiries.

2. Independence for Hunan

At the Chinese University of Hong Kong, posters advocating Hong Kong independence were removed from campus by a mixture of security staff and students who opposed the idea. So some decided to replace them with another set of similarly-worded pro-independence posters.

poster university campus

Photo: Twitter.

“The only way out is Hunan independence,” they read, against a background portrait of the province’s most famous son, Mao Zedong.

In his youth, before joining the Communist Party, Mao had written newspaper columns supporting the independence of his home province and the dissolution of China – a country then plagued by constant civil war.

“The best way is not to construct together, but to break up,” he wrote in Changsha’s Ta Kung Pao on September 3, 1920. “22 provinces, three special zones and two clan areas: That’s 27 places. It’s best to have 27 countries.”

3. Mao on democracy and patriotism

The first leader of the People’s Republic was also quoted in posters on the campus of City University. The CityU posters referred to Mao’s teachings on the subjects of democracy and patriotism from 1946 – a time when his rival, the Kuomintang’s Chiang Kai-shek, was in control of China.

Mao Zedong City University poster

Photo: Screenshot.

“Now we’re talking about patriotism? A love of whose country? Chiang Kai-shek’s country?” read one poster.

“How does a government not elected by the people have any face to represent the country? To love a country like this would be akin to betraying the motherland.”

4. Vladivostok reunification

As banners calling for independence were torn down across campuses, they were sometimes replaced by posters that condemned separatism.

Vladivostok independence unification separatism

Photo: Screenshot.

Yet one satirical poster at Lingnan University called not only for Hong Kong to remain under Chinese rule, but also for the return of Vladivostok.

The port city was founded after China’s Qing Dynasty ceded some of its northeastern territories to the Russian Empire under the Treaty of Peking in 1860. Hong Kong Island had been ceded to the British only 18 years earlier.

5. Celebrating the 9/11 attacks

After the death of education deputy Choi’s son, Chief Executive Carrie Lam held a press conference, calling those who mocked the tragedy “cold-blooded”. This inspired a poster at the University of Hong Kong satirically ridiculing the annivesary of another tragedy.

“Let’s celebrate the 16th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks!” it read in simplified Chinese.

9/11 September 11 HKU Hong KOng University

Photo: Screenshot.

“Sue me for being cold-blooded, stupid,” read another piece of paper in smaller print – in Cantonese – though this message later disappeared.

One student later added a hand-written response to the celebratory message: “What [the] fuck is wrong with u?”

Student union president Wong Ching-tak told Ming Pao that he did not agree with the message, but the union would not remove posters unless they violated regulations against defamation, personal attacks and obscenities.

In Translation: Students test the limits of poster power after university removes pro-independence banners