University of Hong Kong president Professor Zhang Xiang fulfilled a pledge he made earlier in the week to the student body and attended a Q&A session held on campus on Thursday evening. Students, staff and alumni were invited to raise questions and concerns about the position of the university regarding the recent social unrest linked to the controversial extradition bill.
The 90-minute forum proceeded in good order, with some heckling of a speaker who wished to speak in Putonghua before being advised by the moderator to use English.
The topics covered and grievances raised ranged from Zhang’s statement condemning violence issued after the storming of the Legislative Council building on July 1. Multiple people asked him to withdraw or amend his first statement or issue a second statement condemning perceived excessive use of force by police as well.
Zhang said he would condemn such acts should they be proven by an investigation. He also said criticism of his own comments on the protests had been fair and that he needed to show the younger generation more understanding.
One mainland student expressed her unhappiness with the foul language used in posters across campus and asked for stronger rules governing such content. “I applied to study at HKU for its good reputation and the resources it gave me, but these past two months, I think [what has happened on] our campus is too political,” she said.
Alan Leong Kah-kit, former legislator of the Civic Party and HKU alumnus was among those who raised concerns about Zhang’s statement. Leong used Sun Yat-sen, who was instrumental in the rebellion against the Qing dynasty, as an example that “violence may sometimes be the solution to a problem”. He also asked Zhang, as part of the establishment, not to put people in a position where they feel they had no choice but to resort to violence.
Zhang’s response was consistent with his position throughout the night as he reiterated that violence was not a solution. “In my mind, this is not a solution at all, and we should not educate our students like that.”
Students and graduates gave credit to Zhang for appearing at the forum and engaging in honest talks, even if some were disappointed by his stance of not condemning alleged police violence, or promising more to protect students.