Call for HKU to Investigate and Condemn Colonial Racism
Call for HKU to Investigate and Condemn Colonial Racism
Why this petition matters
Dear Professor Xiang Zhang, President, University of Hong Kong: （中文版煩請見下）
In the March 18, 2020 edition of the Mingpao, a Chinese language legacy news organization of considerable repute and circulation, Dr. Kwok-Yung Yuen (袁國勇), a leading virologist at the University of Hong Kong, published an op-ed piece co-authored with Dr David Lung (龍振邦).
In this article, Drs Yuen and Lung wrote: "The Wuhan New Coronavirus is a product of the inferior culture of the Chinese, of their unbridled hunting and consumption of wild animals, their inhumane treatment of animals, and their general disrespect for life. To satiate the panoply of their desires, they incessantly indulge in the flavor of the wild. The real source of this viral poison are the degenerate customs and inferior root stock of the Chinese people." 武漢新冠狀病毒乃中國人劣質文化之產物，濫捕濫食野生動物、不人道對待動物、不尊重生命，為滿足各種欲望而繼續食野味，中國人陋習劣根才是病毒之源。
While a discussion of the problems of zoonotic transmission is a crucial issue of concern to society at large, we cannot allow such discussion to become a pretext to close our eyes to the resurrection of colonial racism. Those with a knowledge of modern Chinese history since the 19th century recognize that the discourse of "inferior root stock national character" (劣根性民族性) is indelibly marked with the history of colonial racism.
In an article from 1964, Dante Puzzo had already concluded that, "Racism rests on two basic assumptions: that a correlation exists between physical characteristics and moral qualities; that mankind is divisible into superior and inferior stocks.” (Dante Puzzo, “Racism and the Western Tradition,” Journal of the History of Ideas 25 (1964), pp. 579-86, p. 579).
The idea of "inferior root stock national character" is unmistakably associated with racist ideas of eugenic transformation and colonial hierarchy. It has no place in modern scientific and public discourse.
Resurrecting the vocabulary of historical racism and lending to it the symbolic value of institutional and scientific prestige, Drs Yuen and Lung have done grave damage to the University of Hong Kong as well as Hong Kong and global civil society.
In their public apology issued the following day, Drs Kwok-Yung Yuen and David Lung express contrition for unspecified errors of expression and fact 表達不適當，用詞甚至有錯誤. There was no retraction of their unprofessional, unscientific, and extremely inflammatory rhetoric resurrecting colonial racism of national character discourse. In fact, not only did they not retract and apologize for this unmistakably colonial form of racism, they implicitly doubled down on it: "the article had no connection to politics," they explained, "but was rather expressing a respect for the truth, to transform cultural habits and mores." . 他們稱，該文與政治無關，旨在提出尊重真相、移風易俗。
Universities have a special responsibility to engage public debate about issues of social and scientific concern such as zoonotic transmission without indulging in racist rhetoric from the past.
Because of its own colonial history, the University of Hong Kong cannot afford to allow the resurrection of colonial racism under any circumstances. It is particularly symbolic that the Li Ka-Shing School of Medical Science where Dr Yuen is a faculty member was the foundation for the University of Hong Kong established in 1910 on the basis of the Hong Kong College of Medicine.
In view of these historical roots and HKU's invaluable contributions to Hong Kong and global civil society,
1) the President's Office of the University of Hong Kong should provide a public explanation for the extent and basis of its support for faculty members like Dr. Yuen whose public persona outside the university promotes the resurrection of colonial racism.
2) the establishment of a panel of inquiry to investigate and document the living history of colonial racism in this venerable institution with colonial roots.
Note: Despite the Petition Update issued on March 22, HK media continue to mischaracterize the demands of this petition. This petition does not ask for an investigation of Dr. Yuen personally, nor does it ask for a reevaluation of his employment (unless for instance it were subsequently accidentally discovered that Dr. Yuen has a documented history of employing horizontal or any other kind of racism).
What it does ask for is for the University of Hong Kong to make an effort to organize awareness about the University's colonial past and the various relations between that past and similar problems of colonial history currently under examination in anglophone universities across the globe.
The original wording in the petition included this phrase at the end: "If need be, pending further investigation, we ask that HKU reconsider its appointment of Dr Yuen." This phrase was not included in the demands of the petition. The update posted on March 22 further clarified its meaning and explicitly stated that an investigation of Dr. Yuen was not the aim. Yet the HK media continued to make false claims to the contrary.
As the initiator of this petition, I deeply regret that the intended meaning of this sentence was not clear enough to prevent misunderstanding in a highly tense climate. I repeat, this petition is not a call to investigate Dr. Yuen and serve as a pretext for terminating his employment.
It is rather a call for the University of Hong Kong, variously: a) to confront it's own history; b) to make greater efforts to document, publicize, and raise awareness on and off campus about that history; c) to uncover that history's possible effects in the present; d) to make known publicly the University's support for remarks made off campus in public by University faculty members such as those by Dr. Yuen that resurrect horizontal racism .
在一篇寫於1964年的學術論文裡，丹特‧蒲索（Dante Puzzo）早已總結指出：「種族歧視根植於兩種預設：其一為身體特徵與道德特質之間存在對應關係；其二則是人類可以分為優、劣不同種根。」(Dante Puzzo, “Racism and the Western Tradition,” Journal of the History of Ideas 25 (1964), pp. 579-86, p. 579).
袁、龍兩位博士翌日發表的公開道歉，僅是針對若干不具名的表達錯誤與事實錯誤等問題表達了模糊悔意。至於他們那樣非專業、非科學、甚為火爆的修辭學導致殖民種族歧視式的民族性論述復活一事，偏偏沒有任何撤回可言。不但沒有具體撤回，也更沒有為此一無法否認是殖民主義種族歧視的表達作出道歉，反而還間接加倍肯定原有的立場：「他們稱，該文與政治無關，旨在提出尊重真相、移風易俗。」（見明報港聞〈「追求科學真理 無意捲入政治」 龍振邦袁國勇撤回文章〉: https://bit.ly/2Uf6VbY