Despite Beijing’s tensions surrounding their island home, several Taiwanese students still wish to pursue an education on the mainland. Following the implementation of the 2020 national security law, which students are forced to study, some Taiwanese students in Hong Kong shared their perspective with Radio Free Asia on their time studying under the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime. .
With the CCP’s tightening grip, students have become very cautious over speech critical of the ruling party. Others have expressed “disgust” at the communist government’s influence on their campuses, which brings a sense of “hopelessness” to Hong Kong.
“I let everything roll off me here, and I don’t comment or express opinions,” a student with the pseudonym Florence told Radio Free Asia. “I can’t talk about sensitive topics publicly, but I don’t feel it’s too much of a pain.”
“Does the national security law have any impact on me? Not much at all,” she added.
Another Taiwanese student, Gavin, has also been tight lipped after witnessing security guards suppress a protest during the November 2022 “white paper” protests, which were in response to a fire in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang.
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“You need to be aware that Hong Kong may be more tightly controlled than a lot of places in mainland China even,” Gavin said. “I supported them, but I daren’t help them for personal safety reasons.”
Another student, with the pseudonym of Henry, didn’t have interest in the protests, he too had to exercise caution when speaking to The Reporter, sharing how some universities used to encourage debates about “government policy.”
“Lecturers would put government policy on the table for discussion and comment with students, but now they’re also under a lot of pressure, and they don’t talk about these things any more,” he said.
“Universities once known for their critical thinking were now sending emails to lecturers inviting them to attend a flag-raising ceremony for the Chinese national flag,” he added.
“The university’s student union has been disbanded and student self-governance is dead,” Henry added. “I don’t talk about this publicly, and I’ll think twice before discussing it on social media.”
One Taiwanese student with the pseudonym Edgar told The Reporter that he had to take “national security education,” which has become mandatory for all students in Hong Kong universities.
“One day, I received a notification that a class has been posted on the course website and that I was required to complete it,” Edgar said.
This course was designed to cover modern Chinese history and Hong Kong’s national security law, a class that students have to pass to graduate.
Among the test questions is one with multiple scenarios, asking students which among them would be a breach to the national security law. The correct answer was all of them.
While Edgar didn’t find the test too difficult, he did express “disgust” when taking it.
“Those exam questions are exactly the same as the propaganda we see on [Chinese state television],” he said. “This has now become a requirement to graduate — I feel disgusted about that.”
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In another case, a student given the name Gavin had to answer a question on the jailing of pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai for the same test. He and his classmates had to study the “correct” answers, proving that “the law has retroactive effect.”
“This course is ridiculous,” he said. “It may not be hard to pass the test, but you have to be emotionally passive and powerless to do so.”
To researcher in social sciences at Taiwan’s Academia Sinica, Lin Tsung-hung, these courses are a form of “physical intimidation.”
“When you read text aimed at brainwashing you, you don’t just wind up brainwashed; it takes effect on another level, that’s the problem,” Lin told RFA, also warning that universities in Hong Kong would dwindle in the face of global education.
Elaine, another anonymous student, shared that she was not allowed to hang a Taiwanese flag during her student gatherings, while those from other countries could.
“The school didn’t inform us that we can’t display this flag,” she said. “I guess maybe they thought we would figure that out for ourselves.”
The Reporter estimated that around 900 students from Taiwan were studying in Hong Kong universities in 2019. By 2022, that number rose to about 1,000. That number took a drastic dive after the national security law was imposed, and by 2023, there were only 300 Taiwanese students left.
In June, a student from the National Taiwan University was arrested in Hong Kong as she was commemorating the Tiananmen Square Massacre with fellow students.
In spite of the repressive control, some students still wish to persevere in Hong Kong to make a living there.
“I think it was worth it, coming to Hong Kong to study, but there are sacrifices in doing that,” Gavin said.
“You can’t say whatever you want — there’s no freedom.”