Chinese students organise solidarity with Hong Kong

Submitted by martin on 7 August, 2019 - 11:51 Author: Colin Foster
Lennon wall at UQ

Chinese students at the University of Queensland, in Brisbane, Australia, have set up a "Lennon Wall" in the student union precinct at the main campus.

The wall, expressing solidarity with the protests in Hong Kong, has been ripped down twice by pro-Chinese-government students, but restored each time.

Like the Lennon Walls in Hong Kong, it is named after a wall in Prague, in the Czech Republic, which has been a site for oppositional graffiti since the 1980s. In fact, UQ now has two Lennon Walls, the fixed one being supplemented by a mobile one moved around the campus.

Students I talked with at the wall say that they are coordinating by Facebook as well as by gathering at the wall. After two protests on the campus, one of which was assaulted by pro-Chinese-government students, they are considering their next steps.

The student union has granted them the wall space, but done no more. The UQ branch committee of the NTEU (National Tertiary Education Union) UQ branch committee has declared: "We express our solidarity with Hong Kong pro-democracy students and call upon the university to uphold their rights to freedom of speech and assembly on UQ campuses"; but the students I talked with were not aware of any active support from academics.

They had not yet considered reaching out to trade unions. Australia has long had a sizeable Chinese population - now 5.6% of the country's total - and many Australian trade unions have a good few members of Chinese origin.

At the University of Queensland (UQ), maybe a third of the university's 54,000 students are Chinese - Hong Kong Chinese, Taiwan Chinese, Malaysian Chinese, Singapore Chinese, Australian Chinese, or mainland Chinese. The proportion has increased fast in recent years.

The students I talked with said they get good support from all those groups except the mainland Chinese. They are often sympathetic in private but worried about public commitment for fear of the consequences when they return to China. Some suspect that some mainland-Chinese students are "planted" at the university by the Chinese government to monitor the behaviour of others.

One student said they were hesitant about going on the streets to express solidarity with Hong Kong in Brisbane's densest Chinese suburb, Sunnybank, because now (she reckons) the majority there are mainland-Chinese rather than, as formerly, Taiwan-Chinese.

The Lennon Wall does not mention the other big "Chinese" issue at UQ, the university's Chinese-government-funded "Confucius Institute". UQ's agreement with the Chinese government requires it to allow the Chinese government to vet the "Confucius Institute" academically.

That remains an issue even if it is now overshadowed by another UQ money-with-strings scandal, its proposal to run a "Western Civilisation" degree program funded and vetted by the "Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation".

The "Centre" is funded from a bequest by a private-health-care billionaire who died in 2014 and run by right-wing figures like former prime minister Tony Abbott who have said publicly that the aim is to have a degree program firmly anchored in right-wing politics to train future cadres.

Australia's top-ranked university, the Australian National University in Canberra, has already rejected proposals to run a "Ramsay" degree course.

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