Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

An Oasis of Academic Freedom in China ; Free Speech Is Thriving and Politics Is Fair Game at Hong Kong Schools

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

An Oasis of Academic Freedom in China ; Free Speech Is Thriving and Politics Is Fair Game at Hong Kong Schools

Article excerpt

Hong Kong operates under its own laws, which allow students, academics and universities more freedom than they have in the rest of the country, particularly at schools of media, communications and journalism.

The Goddess of Democracy, a sculpture resembling the Statue of Liberty that has become a protest symbol, is holding court at the City University of Hong Kong, which is host to an exhibit about the 1989 crackdown near Tiananmen Square, an event that cannot be discussed openly in mainland China.

Last year, the university displayed photographs by Liu Xia, the wife of the imprisoned Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo. PEN America, an organization that works to defend freedom of expression, called the Hong Kong exhibit its first on "Chinese soil."

While that is true -- this former British colony was returned to Chinese rule in 1997 -- the complex reality is that Hong Kong operates under its own laws, which allow students, academics and universities more freedom than they would have in the rest of the country, particularly at schools of media, communications and journalism.

On the Web site of the University of Hong Kong's Journalism and Media Studies Center, students can read about a talk that the U.S. filmmaker Alison Klayman gave about her documentary on Ai Weiwei, an artist who was detained for two months in 2011 in Beijing and is barred from leaving the country.

The China Media Project, which is affiliated with the university's journalism school, has a regular column called the "Anti-Social List" that tracks, translates and reprints posts that the Chinese authorities have censored from Sina Weibo, a domestic Twitter-like service.

Yuen-Ying Chan, founding director of the Journalism and Media Studies Center, said by e-mail that she had never felt pressure to avoid controversies.

Also at the University of Hong Kong is the Public Opinion Project, whose polls have long been a thorn in the authorities' side. (The project has bounced between the Media Studies Center and the Faculty of Social Sciences.)

Robert Ting-Yiu Chung, who since 1991 has run HKU POP, which studies public opinion, made headlines in 2012 when his team held a mock election for the city's chief executive, who is chosen by a committee with government ties. …

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