Deportation over campus democracy wall vandalism

Taiwan this week deported a visitor from mainland China for vandalising a campus ‘Lennon Wall’* set up in support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement after warning for weeks that it would not tolerate disputes between rival camps of pro-Hong Kong and pro-Beijing supporters on campuses.

Campus democracy walls, also known as ‘Lennon Walls’, featuring posters and messages in support of the Hong Kong protests have burgeoned all over Hong Kong and have been adopted by students and supporters in other countries as a way of supporting the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement, which is now into its fourth month.

However, the campus democracy walls in particular have become flashpoints for supporters of the Hong Kong movement and those who oppose it, usually mainland Chinese who call themselves ‘patriots’ and who support Beijing.

Friction, sometimes violent, has occurred, not just at universities in Taiwan but on campuses in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States and in Europe.

The move comes as China has targeted some of its own citizens for supporting the Hong Kong movement as Chinese mainland authorities since June have detained and harassed dozens of activists and netizens who showed support for the protests, and warned students and others not to participate in them, according to a report from Human Rights Watch released on 3 October.

Strident official views on the mainland against the Hong Kong movement and Beijing’s censorship of news coming out of Hong Kong have hardened the views of those who have taken action against Lennon Walls, academics and students say.

National Taiwan University (NTU) Student Association had posted a video on 8 October showing a Chinese man, identified later as Li Shaodong, tearing down signs on its campus Lennon Wall, describing him as a visitor. It was reported to police after a student from NTU notified the university.

Li, a citizen of the People’s Republic of China, told police he just happened to walk past the Lennon Wall while sightseeing in Taipei and spontaneously tried to tear it up, according to Taiwan’s semi-official Central News Agency (CNA). Li was deported on 9 October and barred from Taiwan for five years, in the first deportation from Taiwan linked to the Hong Kong protests.

The university said it will strengthen patrols, particularly around the Lennon Wall, and emphasised that it will take steps to ensure the safety of students on campus.

Incidents on many campuses

Last week a mainland Chinese exchange student who ripped down Lennon Wall messages at National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan’s Hsinchu City, told police she had pulled them down because they contained “radical messages”.

On 27 September a visiting Chinese couple did the same at National Sun Yat-sen University in the port city of Kaohsiung, but the case was dropped after the couple apologised to the student union.

Almost a dozen Taiwan universities – including National Taiwan University, National Tsing Hua University, National Taiwan University of Arts, National Sun Yat-sen university, National Cheng Kung University in Tainan, I-Shou University in Kaohsiung, Soochow University, Shih Hsin University and Chinese Culture University in Taipei – reported that mainland students had vandalised on-campus Lennon Walls, according to Taiwan’s ministry of education and some had fought off Taiwan and Hong Kong students who tried to stop them.

After an incident at I-Shou University in September, the university said it could expel the student, CNA reported.

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen recently warned mainland Chinese who attacked Hong Kong students in Taiwan or tore down Lennon Walls.

“Such incidents will not be tolerated. The entry of people involved should be restricted to a certain degree in the future to maintain our rule of law and social order,” Tsai said on 3 October. In late September she condemned violence on campuses after clashes were reported at four universities over Lennon Walls.

“Regardless of whether the violence takes place within or outside the campus and regardless of who these people are, we would never allow such actions or tolerate them,” Tsai said in a Facebook post on 26 September, adding that students had a right to voice their opinions and support whatever they wanted.

Taiwan government action

“We welcome students from all over the world to study in Taiwan, but they must observe and follow the laws here,” Education Minister Pan Wen-chung said.

Pan said on 2 October that his ministry had established an ad hoc team to work with local universities, particularly those with large numbers of students from mainland China and Hong Kong, to address disputes between Hong Kong and Chinese students.

Some 30,000 mainland Chinese and 7,700 from Hong Kong are enrolled in Taiwan’s universities, according to ministry data.

Taiwan’s immigration authorities said they would examine complaints and would likely bar visitors who bully students or vandalise Lennon Walls.

Legislators said the measures barring damage to Lennon Walls would also protect students from mainland China who come to Taiwan to study.

President Tsai has been supportive of the Hong Kong movements and also pledged to assist Hong Kongers facing prosecution for involvement in anti-government protests who seek sanctuary in Taiwan. This sparked a rebuke from Beijing to “stop meddling” in the affairs of the city of Hong Kong, which was handed back to Beijing by Britain in 1997.

At least three universities in Taiwan, including National Dong Hwa University, Soochow University and National Taiwan University of Arts, said they would help Hong Kong students who were enrolled in their institutions to keep their places until they return after they were arrested in August and September on rioting charges linked to the pro-democracy movement and barred from leaving Hong Kong. Court hearings are scheduled for next month.

*The first Lennon Wall was set up in Prague in the Czech Republic following the assassination of singer, songwriter and peace activist John Lennon in 1980 and was filled with art as well as lyrics from the Beatles. In the late 1980s the wall became a place where people expressed irritation with the Communist regime in the country, but today it focuses on love and peace, two big themes of Lennon’s songs.

The wall in Prague serves as an inspiration for the Hong Kong Lennon Wall established by the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong in 2014. Earlier this year artists included on the Prague wall an image of the yellow raincoat worn by Hong Kong democracy activist Marco Leung Ling-kit, who died during the extradition bill protests.