Around 200 Baptist University staff and students attended a march on Friday afternoon to protest the school’s decision to suspend two students in relation to a Mandarin language requirement controversy.
Last week, the Baptist University Students’ Union held an eight-hour protest at the school’s Language Centre. Mandarin language proficiency is a HKBU graduation requirement, and local students must pass the centre’s test if they wish to be excused from taking a Mandarin course.
After 70 per cent of students failed the test, some demanded talks with the administration. A video later emerged showing Student Union President Lau Tsz-kei swearing at staff members. Following the row, one of the protesters – Chinese medicine student Andrew Chan Lok-hang – cut short his internship in China after receiving threats.
Lau and Chan were suspended by Vice-chancellor Roland Chin on Wednesday, prompting the student union to organise a protest.
At Friday’s rally, students chanted slogans such as “Shame on oppressing students” and “defend procedural fairness.” They also decried the “unreasonableness” of the school’s disciplinary action.
Andrew Chan said that he had only expected 100 to turn up, and that he was very moved by everyone’s support.
Demosisto’s Agnes Chow, who is also a student at the university, said that the punishment handed to students was disproportionate, Stand News reported.
A 70-year-old woman in crutches also attended the demonstration. “I feel very sad – just now I wished the two of them the best. 30,000 cops had also used foul language… [Lau] just had a slip of tongue and said the wrong thing – one word,” she told RTHK.
Pro-Beijing demonstrators also gathered at the venue, displaying slogans that compared the student union to triads and declaring their pride as Chinese nationals.
The group said that Mandarin is an international language and learning it would improve Hong Kong students’ competitiveness. They also said that the student union was a hotbed for pro-independence ideas and that they were being used as pawns for people with political motives.
The two groups had to be separated by security guards.
A graduate student named Chen Aijia posted a notice on the school’s democracy wall stating that she was willing to tutor students in Mandarin for free, but ask that they stop attacking the school and teachers. She said she did not wish for the incident to become politicised.
Towards the end of the protest, student representatives handed a petition letter to the provost, Professor Clayton MacKenzie, who said he would consider student demands.
Lau said they would not exclude the possibility of taking further action if the school does not respond by next Wednesday.
More than 700 alumni of the school have also signed a petition asking the school to withdraw the decision to suspend two students.
Chinese and English are the official languages in Hong Kong. Cantonese is commonly spoken in Hong Kong, as opposed to Mandarin in mainland China and Taiwan.