“No end in sight”: Hong Kong protests arrive at U of T

Pro-Hong Kong, pro-Beijing students clash over the region’s future

“No end in sight”:  Hong Kong protests arrive at U of T

The protest lasted for hours. Around two dozen pro-Hong Kong and pro-Beijing students stood on opposite sides of the sidewalk in front of Sidney Smith Hall, chanting slogans and waving flags. This demonstration on September 26 was one of several that have sprung up around U of T and Toronto since June, coinciding with the beginning of civil unrest in Hong Kong.

The international nature of U of T meant that various parts of the university community, from faculty to students, have been affected by the protests. As the movement grows and shows no signs of ending, U of T is one of many universities around the world that have become a stage for these divisive clashes.

The unrest began in June, when the Hong Kong government proposed a bill that would allow the central Chinese government to extradite people from Hong Kong to mainland China. What started as peaceful protests that demanded the Hong Kong government’s full withdrawal of the bill has devolved into violent clashes between protestors and police. During the past few months, numerous injuries have been reported on both sides, as well as widespread claims of police brutality.

The city is now marked by standoffs and violence between police and protestors as the movement has grown in scope beyond the extradition bill — whose full withdrawal was announced by the Hong Kong government on September 4, and is expected to be implemented this month. The movement now includes five central demands from protestors, including the implementation of true universal suffrage.

“Responsibility to raise awareness”: Hong Kong students speak out

With its large international student population, U of T is not immune from the unrest taking place across the world.

The U of T Hong Kong Extradition Law Awareness Group has been at the forefront of these protests since it was founded in June.

“We are doing the demonstration not just because we are protecting Hong Kong, but we are protecting the universal value of freedom, and also freedom of speech,” explained its organizer and fourth-year sexual diversity studies and equity studies student Hogan Lam.

Their efforts have been supported in part by the U of T Hong Kong Students’ Association (UTHKSA), the larger cultural club on campus. President Sandra Kan noted that while historically the UTHKSA has refrained from commenting on political events, the scale of these protests has reminded her of the association’s “responsibility to raise awareness.”

“I’m trying to strike a balance between being politically neutral and spreading some news to raise awareness, because when I start to share news it means that I’ve taken this little stance,” said Kan.

Both groups expressed gratitude toward the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), which reached out and offered support and resources.

Lam said that during the Street Fest, the clubs gathering at the beginning of the academic year, the UTSU helped mitigate conflict by placing Hong Kong groups away from the “Chinese [societies].”

“Our opinion is, if we’re not helping out other students unions, then what are we really doing as one?” said UTSU President Joshua Bowman. “Especially when we’re privileged to exist in a political climate that we have that is not really comparable.”

Pro-Hong Kong and pro-Beijing students face off

The Hong Kong groups’ protests have been far from unchallenged, as pro-Beijing students consistently stage counter-protests in equal numbers.

“I think it’s their freedom to protest, but it’s also our freedom to stand here against their protest,” said Ziyuan Xu, a pro-Beijing Rotman Commerce student. “I think some of the Hong Kong people, they are hurting my cultural identity,” said Xu, citing what he saw as anti-government sentiment and “fake news” about police brutality. However, credible reporting of the situation in Hong Kong indicates that such claims of “fake news” are false.

In response to the claims of police violence, Rotman Commerce student and counter-protestor Rick Wang said, “I believe that’s proper law enforcement because how can you enforce a law without any kind of violence?” Wang added that this is the police’s job as a “violent machine of the state.”

“I think it’s very ironic because what [the counter-protestors] were doing,” said Jane*, a first-year political science student who was part of the awareness group’s protest. “[Protesting] wasn’t a right that was given to them in China, but then they’re exercising it here.”

A portion of the disagreement between the two sides can be attributed to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) disinformation campaign, which has falsely framed the protests as an independence movement.

“I think a lot of people have a misunderstanding that this protest is about Hong Kong independence, especially in China,” said Kan, who pointed to how the five demands make no mention of independence.

“I do think that people in Hong Kong should stop the protest because it’s making Hong Kong society become unstable,” said Xu. “But if they are protesting here I think it is their freedom and it’s also our freedom to do that.”

Why Hong Kong matters to U of T and Canada

Hong Kong has one of the largest populations of Canadians outside of Canada in the world, with around 300,000 Canadians calling the city home. As such, the ties between the two are extremely close.

Because of this, political science Professor Lynette Ong believes that Canada has a large “interest in upholding the rule of law in Hong Kong as well as Hong Kong’s status.”

In 2017, U of T reported 10,463 undergraduate students from the PRC and 333 undergraduate students from Hong Kong, out of a total of 16,069 international students. That amounted to 65.1 per cent and 2.1 per cent of international students, respectively.

In comparison, the University of British Columbia (UBC) enrolled 5,715 students from the PRC and 288 students from Hong Kong in 2018–2019, out of 15,405 total international students — though UBC has seen much larger protests.

According to U of T Vice-Provost & Associate Vice-President, International Student Experience and political science Professor Joseph Wong, while the university does not generally take stances on international issues, it highly values students’ abilities to express their opinions.

“Having that kind of diversity of thought is something that we see as being vital to the mission of the university,” said Wong. “That being said, the safety of our students is the most important thing.”

Where will it go from here?

“No end in sight,” said Ong when asked about the future of the movement. “I think the government is trying to wait it out and drag it on.”

While Ong believes that it might quiet down, she was also sure that the people’s resolve will only strengthen “in fighting for universal suffrage and more accountability.”

Second-year political science student Hillary* says that her resolve comes from the fact that “this is my homeland.”

“This is the place that I live, I’m raised. Every single detail in Hong Kong matters to me.”

Indeed, second-year economics student Jamie* stressed that even though she is in Canada, she wanted all Hong Kongers to know that the diaspora “will always stand by them and support them.”

“Unless they give us the five demands, I don’t see that it will end anytime soon,” said Lam. “If we cannot win this, then Hong Kong is not Hong Kong anymore.”

The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union did not send in a comment by press time. The U of T Chinese Debate Society, U of T Hong Kong Public Affairs and Social Service Society, and the Chinese Students and Scholars Association did not respond to requests for comment.

*Names have been changed due to fear of retribution

UTSG: Rebecca Fannin on “Tech Titans of China”

Rebecca Fannin on “Tech Titans of China: How China’s Tech Sector is Challenging the World by Innovating Faster, Working Harder, and Going Global”

BOOK SYNOPSIS: The rise of China’s tech companies and intense competition from the sector is just beginning. This will present an ongoing management and strategy challenge for companies for many years to come. Tech Titans of China is the go-to-guide for companies (and those interested in competition from China) seeking to understand China’s grand tech ambitions, who the players are and what their strategy is. Fannin, an expert on China, is an internationally-recognized journalist, author and speaker. She hosts 12 live events annually for business leaders, venture capitalists, start-up founders, and others impacted by or interested in cashing in on the Chinese tech industry. In this illuminating book, she provides readers with the ammunition they need to prepare and compete. The book includes detailed profiles of the Chinese tech companies making waves, the tech sectors that matter most in China’s grab for super power status, and predictions for China’s tech dominance in just 10 years.

ABOUT OUR SPEAKER: Rebecca A. Fannin is a leading expert on global innovation. As a technology writer, author and media entrepreneur, she began her career as a journalist covering venture capital from Silicon Valley. Following the VC money, she became one of the first American journalists to write about China’s entrepreneurial boom, reporting from Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Today, Rebecca pens a weekly column for Forbes, and is a special correspondent for CNBC.com. Rebecca’s journalistic career has taken her to the world’s leading hubs of tech innovation, and her articles have appeared in Harvard Business Review, Fast Company and Inc., among others. Rebecca’s first book, Silicon Dragon: How China is Winning the Tech Race (McGraw-Hill 2008), profiled Jack Ma of Alibaba and Robin Li of Baidu, and she has followed these Chinese tech titans ever since. Her second book, Startup Asia (Wiley 2011), explored how India is the next up and comer, which again predicted a leading-edge trend. She also contributed the Asia chapter to a textbook, Innovation in Emerging Markets (Palgrave Macmillan 2016). Her new book, Tech Titans of China: How China’s Tech Sector is Challenging the World by Working Harder, Innovating Faster & Going Global, will be published by Hachette Book Group on September 2, 2019. Inspired by the entrepreneurs she met and interviewed in China, Rebecca became a media entrepreneur herself. In 2010, she formed media and events platform Silicon Dragon Ventures, which publishes a weekly e-newsletter, produces videos and podcasts, and programs and produces events annually in innovation hubs globally. Rebecca also frequently speaks at major business, tech and policy forums. She resides in New York City and San Francisco, and logs major frequent flier miles in her grassroots search to cover the next, new thing.

$24.95 plus HST per person (includes 1 paperback copy of “Tech Titans of China” and 1 seat for the book talk)

Student presidency first, global advocacy second

An international Chinese UTSC student reviews Chemi Lhamo’s election

Student presidency first, global advocacy second

During and after the 2019 Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) election, President-elect Chemi Lhamo was attacked by an online harassment campaign due to her pro-Tibetan independence activism. The backlash included questioning her integrity and viability as SCSU president-elect and a petition that called for the nullification of her election.

There is no question that Lhamo’s election is legitimate and that harassment of this kind is abhorrent and unacceptable. However, the firestorm raises an important question about the extent to which advocates and activists who exert pressure on political systems from the outside to advance a particular cause can subsequently become holders of political power on the inside. This is especially the case when that particular cause is divisive for the electorate.

Student union executives are expected to represent all students. They may also participate in advocacy, but only so long as the issue in question is in the ‘student interest,’ defined by overwhelming student support. For example, most can back the movement for more affordable tuition. But publicly embracing advocacy on a highly contentious and global issue is both unnecessary since the president is only mandated to address local student issues, and risky, as it might serve to polarize the campus and alienate certain groups on campus.

This is why, for example, student unions tend to stay away from the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. Picking a side will inevitably alienate some students.

Take also, for example, former University of Toronto Students’ Union Vice-President University Affairs Cassandra Williams, who was criticized for actively taking a stand against Professor Jordan Peterson and Students in Support of Free Speech in fall 2016, even though the campus was clearly split over the free speech issue.

The issue with Lhamo is not her Tibetan identity in and of itself. It is the fact that a significant pro-Tibetan advocacy role preceded and continued to be a talking point in her presidential campaign. Through the campaign period, she has made clear how her identity as a stateless Tibetan refugee informs her pro-representation platform policy. In an interview with The Underground, she said that the “skills that she had learned from her Tibetan community in Toronto could transfer to her professional positions at the union.”

Lhamo had also chosen to conspicuously wear traditional Tibetan cultural clothing at The Underground’s debate, in which she had also discussed her past as a refugee. In effect, she chose to unnecessarily conflate her identity with her bid for the presidency.

Lhamo of course has a right to speak about and express her Tibetan identity in her personal life and advocacy work. But being a public figure and running for public office requires that she frame her campaign in a way that appeals to the sensitivities of as many students as possible. She is required to have widespread trust and support from UTSC students as SCSU president-elect.

Hence her decision to campaign as a Tibetan refugee and advocate, rather than on strictly her qualifications and ideas as a UTSC student or as the current VP Equity, reflects an intentional political calculation: that the significant international Chinese population at UTSC is not a relevant constituency for her presidency.

Tibetan independence activism is particularly offensive to international Chinese students because preserving China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is of immense importance to their national identity — just as separatist movements are for any nation-state. These students may also have a legitimately different view of the Tibetan situation compared to Lhamo. Her advocacy for independence is too radical even for the Dalai Lama, who only supports autonomy.

Such students may just want to complete their studies on a campus where the president does not unnecessarily take a stand on a contentious global issue that is so close to home. In sum, given her record, it can be difficult to believe that Lhamo will simply set aside her past advocacy work and fulfil the presidency impartially.

Some therefore fear that Lhamo’s activism will inform her presidential decisions. She may very well use the SCSU platform to advocate for Tibetan independence. This raises the question of whether her ability to represent and serve the needs of all students, including international Chinese students, will be compromised.

It must be clarified, however, that the harassment campaign against Lhamo is not entirely the product of students from UTSC. My understanding is that many international Chinese students, like me, accept the diversity of this campus and are not staunchly opposed to her presidency. It is offensive that all international Chinese students at U of T are now being negatively framed and associated with the harassment campaign.

Some accuse us of being incompatible with Canadian values of democracy or free speech and collectively advancing the political agenda of the Chinese government. Lhamo herself has also accused the Chinese government of being responsible for the harassment without any evidence. Such rhetoric only reinforces anti-Chinese hate and exacerbates division.

While Lhamo has responded that she does not plan to make Tibet a focus in her presidency, she must take action to redress her choices and statements as a candidate and now president-elect. Lhamo must make sure that she reaches out to and engages with international Chinese students — as a part of the general international student community — to reassure them that their feelings and needs are no less important to her than any other students’. Following an extremely dramatic and divisive election, the president-elect must first and foremost unite all students at UTSC.

At the same time, the international Chinese students at UTSC who do oppose Lhamo’s presidency should understand that Lhamo’s election is legitimate and that they should correspondingly voice their outrage through legitimate means. This means engagement with the SCSU electoral process — not through harassment or groundless petitions to reverse her election victory. They should vote or run for leadership to ensure that their interests and needs are reflected in the SCSU.

Unfortunately, international students are currently not able to hold executive office, which requires a restricted course load, because their student visas require a full course load. The SCSU under Lhamo could take an important step for inclusion by reforming this policy, as was suggested by the SCSYou slate in this year’s election.

A diverse campus like UTSC is likely to yield diverse leaders who are passionate and advocate for their communities. But advocacy complicates the role of the presidency: the latter requires representing and uniting all students for a common interest, which may inevitably conflict with particular interest of the former.

The sense of alienation that international Chinese students feel is real. Given our significant population at U of T, it is important that student leaders behave and speak in such a way that shows regard for us. Hopefully for Lhamo, global advocacy comes second to student presidency.

Michael Phoon is a second-year Journalism student at UTSC. He is The Varsity’s UTSC Affairs Columnist.

Opinion: U of T should be wary of Huawei partnership

Chinese government’s influence on Huawei may put the university’s partnership at risk

Opinion: U of T should be wary of Huawei partnership

Lyndon B. Johnson, the cunning, calculating 36th US president, liked two things more than anything else: politics and money. Occasionally — and not without suspicion — his passions melded. In 1963, a Wall Street Journal reporter described these crossovers, writing that “like two young oaks springing up side by side, [Johnson’s] careers in government and business grew mightily—their trunks rising parallel and branches intertwining.” The problematic mix never got Johnson into too much trouble, but it did call into question his integrity as a leader.

For the University of Toronto, a leader in education and innovation with numerous business links, it was only a matter of time before it stumbled into a similar situation. That time seems to have come: the university’s partnership with Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications giant at the centre of escalating tensions between China and Canada, is now of much greater significance — and controversy.

Three months ago, U of T renewed its five-year partnership with Huawei, with the company pledging further funds toward joint research initiatives. Since the original deal in 2016, Huawei has funded dozens of U of T projects, contributing roughly $3.5 million over the last two years.

In an interview with U of T News in October, U of T’s Vice-President Research and Innovation Vivek Goel said, “We’re pleased to extend this partnership. As a global institution, the University of Toronto enters into partnerships with a wide range of domestic and multinational companies in a bid to stay at the leading edge of research in Canada and around the world.”

In May, a Globe and Mail report revealed that, by contributing over $50 million to 13 research-heavy Canadian universities, Huawei has built “a steady pipeline of intellectual property” that the company is using to solidify its position in the 5G market. Over the last few years, “nearly 100 professors and graduate students worked on Huawei-funded projects,” and in many cases, “the academics, whose work is underwritten by Canadian taxpayers, assigned all intellectual property rights to Huawei.”

Even before the Canadian government’s detainment of Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou or China’s subsequent detainment of three Canadian nationals, concerns arose that this back-and-forth may not merely be in the spirit of cooperation.

Speaking to the CBC in July, Toronto technology analyst Daniel Bader asserted that “Huawei poses a security threat because it is required to listen to and provide information to the Chinese government. All private companies are (required to do so) in China. Because of a history of cyber terrorism and espionage, there is concern that Huawei may be working on behalf of the Communist Party.”

In an interview with The Varsity, Lynette Ong, an Associate Professor of Political Science at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, downplayed these suspicions. She wrote that although university research such as medical science or engineering is not as politically sensitive as military or finance-related research, it could still attract interest.

These notions are prominent south of the border as well. During the summer, American lawmakers asked Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to investigate Huawei’s investments in American universities, citing an intelligence report claiming that the company was funding research to scoop up foreign technology. Canada’s Five Eyes allies — Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and the US — have all put up barriers to halt Huawei’s 5G expansion.

In spite of these developments, U of T has been passive around its partnership with Huawei. Goel told The Varsity in October that the university’s partnership with Huawei is “as strong or stronger” than those with its other industry partners. In mid-December, he told the press that the university will “respect any direction it receives from the [Canadian] government.” But there’s reason to think that the university may have to be proactive in distancing itself from Huawei, and not simply wait for a call from Ottawa.

On December 12, the editor-in-chief of the Communist Party-run paper, The Global Times, posted a video in which he warned that “if Canada extradites Meng to the US, China’s revenge will be far worse than detaining a Canadian.”

Will the University of Toronto drift into the crosshairs? In an interview with The Varsity, Professor of Political Science Nelson Wiseman wrote, “The issue of the relationship of Canadian universities with Huawei is independent of [the current dispute.] It is related to the concerns of security officials, including former directors of [the Canadian Security Intelligence Service], that Huawei is a de facto agent of China’s security service.”

Ong agrees, writing that “the risk of the UofT being caught in the middle of the spat is very small.” However, she added that “the Chinese authorities are willing to go to great lengths to protect [Huawei]” and that the university “should wait to see the Canadian government’s position on Huawei 5G technology.”

“The Trudeau administration has not made its position clear on Huawei’s 5G network. Until the government does so, I see no reason why the UofT should change its mind about Huawei.”

Clearly, U of T is not in imminent danger. But the current climate is precarious, and vigilance pays dividends. U of T’s motto, “velut arbor aevo,” roughly translates to “may it grow as a tree through the ages.” As decades of development have shown, our foundation is strong, our connections myriad, and our growth boundless. We’ve joined arms with other universities, partnered with think tanks, and intertwined with powerful, multinational corporations. But with all the Huawei chaos whirling around, we’d be wise to stop, look around, and consider if any pesky, problematic branches need pruning.

Overlooked: Youth

The Chinese drama is an introspective look at the lives of youth during the Cultural Revolution

Overlooked: Youth

It was the ’70s: teenagers embraced bell bottoms, sunglasses, and love songs — all behind closed doors. In the newly established People’s Republic of China, the decade was not a period marked by hippie movements and music festivals but by tumultuous social reform and impending war.

The Chinese film Youth, directed by Feng Xiaogang, who is dubbed the ‘Steven Spielberg of China,’ premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last fall. It debuted at North American theatres in mid-December, and while it found tremendous success with domestic Chinese audiences, it may have been perceived as too foreign for other viewers.

Youth follows the lives of two young dancers in the People’s Liberation Army dance troupe. Liu Feng, whose name mimics the Communist party martyr Lei Feng, performs acts of unhindered and naïve kindness in the hopes of fulfilling the prophecy of his name. He Xiaoping is an outcast who wishes to abandon her background and start anew by contributing to the army.

Despite their occasional and hidden experimentation with counterrevolutionary fashion and music, the dance team remains optimistic about the revolution and expresses their patriotism through dance. Their morale is short-lived, however, after the protagonists are sent to the frontlines of the Sino-Vietnamese War.

Without overemphasizing politically sensitive topics, Feng is able to portray the ups and downs of young adulthood in a devastating period for China. Accompanied by washes of sepia, each dance scene evokes feelings of nostalgia and romanticism. The protagonists have dedicated the peak of their life to their profession, and only through the fantasy of performance can they live out the hopeful dreams of their youth.

There is a change of tone toward the end of the film. Liu Feng, now a jobless veteran, finds himself standing in front of a red Coca-Cola billboard in the wake of China expanding its economy. The protagonists’ former teammates are now successful business owners abroad while they, the most dedicated of them all, struggle to make a living. Cold reality sets into the scene while Liu Feng and He Xiaoping reminisce — they have finally achieved martyrdom by sacrificing their idealism and youth to the revolution.

Youth is a melancholy story about the fragility of youth and the failures of a revolution meant to eliminate the elite. Though its execution does sometimes fall short with respect to its overly sentimental acting, it offers a different perspective on the coming-of-age genre. It’s certainly a breath of fresh air in Chinese cinema.

While the movie is strictly in Mandarin with English subtitles, the experience of youth is universal, and Youth should be seen by everyone.

Overlooked is a recurring feature in the Arts & Culture section where writers make the case for pieces of culture that don’t get the attention they deserve. To contribute, email arts@thevarsity.ca.

Sharing public spaces

The AGO's latest exhibit explores urbanization and domestic life in Beijing

Sharing public spaces

On Saturday, January 30, contemporary Chinese artist Song Dong opened his latest art exhibit, Communal Courtyard, at the AGO. The exhibit is an homage to Beijing’s rural living spaces and features more than 100 vintage wardrobes linked together. Collectively, they form a series of labyrinth-like pathways, an artistic homage to domestic life in rural China. 

The installation is part of Dong’s The Wisdom of the Poor series, a project that began in 2005 and focuses on low-income communities in, and around, Beijing.

At first glance, the wardrobe doors appear to be quite similar. Each appears to be crafted from the same wood, and all are the same shade of ochre. As it turns out, however, the differences amongst these wooden entranceways are based upon the scraps of history left on each one.

Bits of wallpaper, scratches, nails, and pencil sketches help form our impression of the individual who once owned this piece of furniture. Mirrors and stained glass windows are spread out amongst various pieces of furniture as well, and as viewers walk by, they’re caught off guard by sudden reflections of themselves.

Through the glass windows, visitors are able to see others walking through the parallel pathway. If a door is positioned close to another wardrobe, people are able to see both a glimpse of their reflection, and the silhouettes of other people walking by.

Shared living spaces were crucial to Dong’s development of Communal Courtyard. The wardrobes and wooden doors are all taken from traditional households in Beijing prior to the city’s rapid urbanization. Dong displays these household possessions in order to demonstrate his respect for both specific Chinese homes and the suburban environment as a whole.

In an interview played on screen the exhibit, the artist notes how he hopes to draw attention to Beijing’s rapid urbanization through depictions of a nation’s history. Since the Communal Courtyard is part of a larger collection, Dong notes how he strives to “incorporate the state of poor people wisdom into [his] work.” Dong shows how a community is “sharing public space,” and keeps it through an interactive installation of linked vintage wardrobes.

The overall enthusiastic mood in the gallery contributes to the visitors’ interest. As new viewers walk in, their curiosity is attracted by those who have already started exploring the Communal Courtyard

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