Geopolitical schisms are coming to the University of Sydney after a mural established by Hong Kong students on the poster boards of Eastern Avenue was dismantled by Chinese students yesterday afternoon, according to video footage obtained by Honi. It comes three weeks after pro-Hong Kong and pro-Beijing students clashed in the Great Court of the University of Queensland (UQ).
The mural, inspired by the ‘Lennon Wall’ — a mosaic of sticky notes also used during the 2014 Umbrella Movement — contained messages, some of which read “No extradition bill”, “We need Freedom”, “Free Hong Kong”, and “Hong Kong is home”. Peace signs and love hearts also adorned the mural. A similar Lennon Wall in the Graffiti Tunnel also went missing this week.
Individual sticky notes were first removed from the board, before the placard itself was dismantled by a group of Mandarin-speaking Chinese students on Tuesday afternoon.
The identity of one of those students is known to Honi as Jingrui (Jesse) Xu, current SRC co-Education Officer, who is paid close to $13,000 by the SRC for mobilising student protests and movements. Xu declined to comment.
Xu and another yet unidentified student are both involved with Panda — a faction loosely grounded in the China Development Society (CDS) — who are also part of the SRC’s majority bloc.
Founding President of the CDS Ye Xue told Honi that the CDS does not endorse any political activities.
“CDS had no role in the dismantling of the Lennon Wall,” Xue said.
The move echoes the actions of pro-Beijing students at UQ who dismantled a ‘Lennon Wall’ set up by the Hong Kong Students Association before interrupting a sit-in protest by Hong Kong activists with intimidation tactics and the Chinese National Anthem. This morning, the Lennon Wall at the University of Queensland was destroyed by masked men.
A university spokesperson told Honi that the University “strongly supports the right of students to protest and express opinions and political views.”
“We do not condone the removal of the ‘Lennon Wall’. Anyone concerned about materials found on campus should contact our Campus Assist team on 9351 2000.”
“The safety of all our students is a top priority and we will continue to monitor the situation,” the spokesperson said.
This is the first time the declining relationship between the rival student communities has spilled out into the open at USyd, and it comes after a recent USyd rant post publicly advertised a peaceful solidarity with Hong Kong protest on Friday this week.
“We need to show Hong Kong that we believe in their right to defend their democracy & we need to realize that an attack on any democracy, is an attack on democracy itself,” the rant reads.
Honi has also seen screenshots of a WeChat post made by a senior member of the Chinese Students Association (CSA). The post suggested that Pro-Hong Kong activity on campus should be resisted by mainland students and indicated the proposed protest had been reported to the Chinese Consulate. That post has since been deleted.
A Chinese international student told Honi “lots of HK and mainland students are afraid and threatened to keep silent.”
“There is definitely a portion of Chinese international students who want to enhance the democracy of our Hong Kong brothers and sisters but they fear speaking out.”
Chinese international students who are pro-Hong Kong fear that advocating their stance in public will attract negative attention from pro-Beijing students.
By speaking out, some told Honi they also risk putting their Chinese citizenship and their families’ safety on the line and face other political repercussions.
Yim Kee, a student with Hong Kong residency status, told Honi that the removal of the Lennon Wall was a “breach of Hong Konger’s right to express support and solidarity about issues at home.”
“I pity international Mainland students who feel threatened by post-it notes condemning the conduct of their government.”
“If they are in a country with free press, why not take the opportunity to learn from the Lennon Wall comments?” Kee said.
Advance, a Pan-Asian student coalition which contested the USU and SRC elections in 2018, will propose a special motion for a peaceful student protest in solidarity with Hong Kong at tonight’s monthly SRC meeting.
“The SRC condemns the violence used by the [Hong Kong] police force against freedom of speech,” the motion reads, signed by unsuccessful 2018 presidential aspirant Alex Yang.
Advance, which has senior members linked to NSW Labor, will require the support of some factions from the majority bloc, including Chinese international student grouping Panda, if the motion is to pass.
The Hong Kong Students Association (HKSA) did not respond to Honi’s request for comment in time for publication.