The decision to close City University’s MFA programme is plainly intended to limit free expression – showing just how vital it is
Last month, City University of Hong Kong abruptly shut down its MFA programme in creative writing. During Occupy Central – the campaign of mass civil disobedience that disrupted Hong Kong universities and brought part of the territory to a standstill for nearly three months last year – a number of our students had published essays in support of the demonstrations.
One of the most prominent was by lawyer Keane Shum, who wrote in Atlantic of his fears for Hong Kong in the face of increasing political interference from China. He said: “I choose words of protest. Others can bet against the march of democracy, but I still go with the better odds. I am a student no longer, but a dreamer, and a Hong Konger, always.”
For many in my generation, the images of class boycotts, calls for face-to-face meetings with senior leaders, and the decision by students to put their bodies in the way of police lines, brought back memories of the Tiananmen demonstrations of 1989. For writers, literature is a carrier of history. In Chinese, the word remembrance, jì yì, is a pun that can be heard two ways, 记忆 (to recall, record) and 技艺 (art). In the aftermath of Occupy Central, a chilling effect has taken root in Hong Kong’s academic institutions, most palpably in the territory’s top institution, Hong Kong University, described two weeks ago by media as “a campus on edge”.