- Xu Jiang says he knew patriotic display at HKUST could have repercussions
- Hong Kong’s policymakers, planners and teachers must take blame for failing the city’s young, he says
When computer science professor Xu Jiang presented a Chinese national flag to one of his students at a graduation ceremony last week, his message was clear.
"I hope that my student understood that he is Chinese first, and that I wanted him to be a responsible and disciplined person " a person who has no need to hide his Chinese identity no matter where he goes," the 44-year-old mainland-born academic from the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology said.
Xu said he understood the risks of such a pro-China gesture, especially so soon after student Chow Tsz-lok fell in a car park in Tseung Kwan O near an area of confrontation between protesters and police on November 4.
The 22-year-old died four days later without waking from a coma.
The confrontation was just one in months of protests triggered by a now withdrawn Hong Kong extradition bill.
Xu said he thought about the potential backlash of his act but people all over the world showed their national flags at graduations.
"When I was in the United States, I saw so many graduates from different countries showing their national flags at ceremonies. It is an accepted way to show gratitude and respect for one's homeland," said Xu, who received his doctoral degree at Princeton University in 2007 and then went to Hong Kong.
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A friend posted video of Xu's show of patriotism to Weibo, China's Twitter-like service, on November 8 and in a week it attracted more than 18,000 "likes".
But at the graduation ceremony his gesture was greeted by boos, prompting Xu to feel that a once diverse and tolerant city had become hostile and xenophobic.
"Although it's not my first time feeling that Hong Kong is sick, but that feeling is strongest now," he said, adding that the 2014 Occupy Central civil disobedience campaign was a sign that something had gone wrong.
But Xu said radical protesters should not take all of the blame for the deteriorating situation in the city.
"On the contrary, it's the government policymakers, all the people who are related to the city's future development, and especially the teachers in all educational institutions, including me, who should take blame," he said.
"We failed to grasp the helplessness of the students, who wanted to achieve something but failed and became radicalised."
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Xu said there was no time to waste to build a better future.
"I don't think the young protesters have no hope. Instead, I sense the unity among them. If they can be united to do something bad, then they can be united to do something good, too," he said.
Xu said he chose to teach in Hong Kong because he wanted to nurture industrial and academic talent for the city, for China, and for neighbouring countries.
The day Chow died, Xu's office at the university was vandalised. Both events made his heart sink.
"I am so sad, not only because I am a Chinese, but also because after 12 years I am a Hong Kong permanent resident," he said.
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