‘Localism’ scholar is axed ‘due to political pressure’

A scholar of Chinese studies at Hong Kong’s Lingnan University whose writings are said to have inspired Hong Kong’s student-led 'localism' groups has said he is about to lose his university post.

Horace Chin, or Chin Wan-kan, also known by his pseudonym Chin Wan, an assistant professor at Lingnan University, revealed on his Facebook page last week that his seven-year tenure due to end August 15 will not be renewed by the university after he received a letter from the university’s human resources department dated 12 April.

He said the university’s decision makes him “the first academic casualty” of those supporting Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests known as the Umbrella movement, led by students in 2014.

Another academic at the forefront of the Umbrella movement, Johannes Chan, a law professor at Hong Kong University or HKU, whose failure to get a top university job at HKU caused an international outcry last year as it was widely believed to be due to his involvement in the 2014-15 protests, continues to teach at HKU.

Lingnan’s Chin had told local newspapers in February that he had been informed the renewal of his contract would not be recommended by the university’s administration. He said then the university’s decision was due to “political pressure”.

‘Godfather of localism’

Chin is credited with inspiring many of the emerging 'localism' groups rejecting the growing mainland influence on Hong Kong, some of whom have been calling for Hong Kong self-determination and even independence from mainland China.

Several new political parties have emerged in recent months based on Chin’s localism theories.

Chin has been described as the “Godfather of localism” after he published his book On the Hong Kong City-State in 2011, a local best-seller advocating full sovereignty for the city. In place of being an integral part of China, he put forward the notion of Hong Kong being part of a confederation of separate states that would include China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the former Portuguese Colony of Macau.

"What we Hongkongers need is not a democratic China, but to build Hong Kong into an autonomous city-state first, merging the British culture with a restored Chinese culture," he wrote in the book which sparked widespread public debate.

The book has been particularly popular among students and the young who felt an identity distinct from mainland Chinese people.

But his critics have branded him xenophobic for his allegedly inflammatory remarks against mainland immigrants to Hong Kong.

The book included an analysis of a so-called threat of an influx of mainland tourists and immigrants on Hong Kong’s established institutions and social customs. Chin asserted the influx was part of a deliberate scheme by Beijing to colonise Hong Kong.

This tapped into local sentiment that the "Hong Kong way of life” was coming under threat from the mainland, including its press and academic freedoms, and use of Cantonese rather than Mandarin as its official language alongside English.

Open warning

Chin had been openly admonished by the university last year.

Lingnan University President Leonard Cheng wrote to Chin in March 2015 warning that his political speeches had hurt the reputation of the university and that he should mind his words or “suffer the consequences”.

“The university safeguards the freedom of academic speech, and respects the right to express opinions enjoyed by the staff, but some of your words and behaviour over the past few years contradicted your status as a scholar, and crossed the line of the limit of freedom of speech,” Cheng said in the letter leaked to local media.

Without specifying what words he was referring to, Cheng also said Chin’s words and conduct had violated professorial codes of ethics and “badly affected the university’s reputation”.

The university has said it will not comment on individual employment contracts.