If you walk around the campuses of different universities in Hong Kong, you may be able to find different boards around. Among these boards, there is always an extraordinary one – the ‘democracy wall’. Bold fonts, catchy titles, messy patterns…It is difficult not to notice the board. But what makes this particular board stands out is that it contains some of the most direct, naked, candid thoughts shouting from this little corner of the campus.
Generating many controversies of hate speech and pronouncing sensitive words like “HK Independence” recently, democracy walls are today’s hot topic across local universities, as well as where the battle field for “poster war” (where an Australian medium puts it) locates. Looking at all these democracy walls, soon you will realise university students are more than heavy drinkers for Starbucks; rather, they pluck up their courage and are aspired to speak up for themselves as well as to influence others in society.
In respect to this, the team conducted a vox pop in a total of five universities, focusing on their respective regulations of using the democracy wall, as well as their comments toward it.
With photos taken from different universities, here are the responses from the students.
(*Q: the team; A: the interviewee)
Hong Kong Baptist University
— CARMEN TSUI, Year 2, Bachelor of Communications
Q: In your mind, what does a democracy wall represent?
A: It represents the value of the freedom of academic and speech. Students with different background are free to express their ideas and opinions through the democracy wall. It’s important to build up an open-minded and diverse learning environment within the university.
Q: Any controversies going on these days about the democracy wall? What are the regulations of use behind?
A: There’s not much controversies of it. It has been actively used by different student unions and individuals; They often post something such as posters on the wall to arouse student conscious through a particular issue. The Student Union is in charge of the democracy wall and everyone has free access to it.
The Education University of Hong Kong
— CRYSTAL CHUNG, Year 2, Bachelor of Education -(primary)General studies
Q: The democracy wall at the Education University has been under the spotlight… What’s exactly happening?
A: Some students have posted some wordings on the wall to mock the death of the son of Education Undersecretary. This has turned into a controversy within the EdU and Hong Kong. I think the one who posted it was cold-blooded and inhumane.
Q: Do you think the democracy wall is actively being used?
A: It has not been actively used because the political participation rate of students in my school is low and I don’t see a trend of it. The value behind the democracy wall is the freedom of speech. It can perhaps raise the political participation rate of students.
The City University of Hong Kong
— EZREAL KUNG, Year 2, Business Economics
Q: What is the major contentious issue happening on your uni’s democracy wall?
A: Hong Kong independence stirs up the controversies these days.
Q: Can you share your experience of using the wall with us?
A: I’ve used it for posting “the Declaration of the Transfer of Sovereignty Over Hong Kong over Two Decades” and “the Declaration of Supporting CUSU” written by the joint university press board. In my opinion, the wall is actively being used. The executive committee of CityUSU (City University Students’ Union) has the administration right of it and the full members of CityUSU have the right to use it with their names, SID (Student ID) and dates on their posts.
Q: Anything to add?
A: We should have it because freedom of speech is the cornerstone of any university. It also demonstrates the values of academic and student autonomy.
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
— CRYSTAL CHAN, Year 2, Engineering
Q: How often do you use the wall to express your ideas?
A: Although I have never used it before,I think it has been actively used and I think it’s a good way to express ideas. It’s quite different from any online platforms or social media websites, posting on the democracy wall is like a raw and brave way of spreading messages.
Q: Are you familiar with the regulations and information about the wall?
A: I know the regulations of it. It’s in charged by the (Students’) Union. And I know there have been some controversies about the usage of the democracy wall recently….To me… the value of it is to let the student express their opinions about democracy freely… it’s about freedom of expression. It’s something worth keeping in campus as it’s like a symbol showing that we care and respect freedom of speech.
The University of Hong Kong
—Bamboo Wong, Year 3, Bachelor of Arts
Q: What are the possible reasons behind the disputed democracy wall?
A: In Hong Kong Polytechnic University, City University of Hong Kong and Education University of Hong Kong, the security guards removed pro-HK independence slogans as they said the comments violate the Basic Law. However, authorities from the Hong Kong Baptist University and the University of Hong Kong did not remove the slogans as they said that the Students’ Unions is responsible for the democracy wall. From the university authorities’ point of view, it seems that their political views override the freedom of speech on campus, which triggered a heated debate.
Q: Have you been told about the rules of using the democracy wall?
A: ‘I know the regulations of the democracy wall; Anyone, not just HKU students, can post anything on the wall and the date of posting has to be shown. The content of posts shall not consist of the following: Personal attack, disclosure of private life, inconsistency with facts or defamation and obscenity. Commercial advertisements cannot be posted. The General Secretary and Administrative Secretary of the Students’ Union are responsible for the management of the Democracy Wall. The Executive Committee has the right to remove posts which have violated the regulations without prior notice.’
Q: Why democracy wall is so important to universities?
A: Democracy wall is demonstrating freedom of speech and academic freedom on campus. Everyone can post anything to express their own opinion, as long as the content does not violate the regulations. If students are not allowed to post anything that againsts the political views of the university authorities on the wall, the wall will then loses its origin meanings that freedom of speech and academic freedom are eroded.
Freedom of speech, freedom of expression, academic freedom, student autonomy, democracy… These are what today’s university students mostly regard most as part of their local identity. We cannot deny the fact that at the same time, these values are facing challenges, probably from university authorities and even from the government. Lofty the goals they sound, can these democracy walls uphold these values remain at the political storm?
Online Team: Elgar