Recent Changes to the HKU Library Reflect Red Line Mentality?

I was admitted to the University of Hong Kong in 1989. After getting my BA I proceeded to post-graduate study, and gained my PhD in 1999. In my ten-year full-time stay in HKU, besides the Main Building which had been the teaching base of the Faculty of Arts before it moved to the Centennial Campus, the place I frequented most was the Library, especially the Special Collection (officially known as Hung On-To Memorial Library).That is a huge treasure for Hong Kong studies researchers, and those like me who researched Guangzhou history also benefited as the Collection truthfully reflects the close tie between the twin cities. During my PhD study, I stayed there day and night to process microfilms of old Hong Kong newspapers especially The Chinese Mail (Huazi ribao), the most respectable one at its time. Intimidated by the cost of making photocopies from microfilms, I typed all the materials using a laptop computer; hence my Chinese word processing speed of 100 words a minute after all those years. I benefitted from the academic freedom in colonial Hong Kong, and years of searching through the bookshelves and leisure reading at a window table, gave me knowledge and wisdom. However, in new Hong Kong, red lines reign everywhere, with education being hit particularly hard. I was informed that the pure land at the Special Collection has now probably become history. On May 18, 2022, the HKU Library announced a new arrangement on the use of the Collection. Prior appointment is now mandatory, implying that full-time researchers may be not able to stay there all day every day, and walk-in visitors are simply not granted access. All window tables have been removed. Readers can no longer spend all the time between bookshelves. Rather, they now need to take the books they need, check them out at the counter, and read in the new small reading area facing the counter. Security measures of this kind, which had been there and only applicable to those who consulted rare books, are now extended to all users of the Collection. Does this new spatial design emphasising centralised management aim at monitoring all users of the Collection? What is more worrying is about the photocopying arrangement. Users need to fill in a request form giving details of materials to be copied. On the form is a list of declarations, and the fourth item is the most distressing: “I understand that the copies are for my personal use only and are not transferable.” My history researcher friends wonder whether this implies that such materials must not be shared with one’s thesis supervisor and classmates, and not be transferred to the project leader after being prepared by a research assistant. Will such sharing and transference constitute contravening the HKU library regulations and result in penalties? A friend who is a research assistant jokingly said that if this was to be implemented literally this would lead to a wave of unemployment of research assistants in the relevant fields. A friend asked the Special Collection staff about why the change, and “book theft” was given as the reason. However, this causes more questions than it answered: does it suggest that there had been no significant book theft problem in the Special Collection since it was founded until recent years, coinciding with the coming of the National Security Law? Is the problem of book theft particularly serious in the Special Collection that it needs to drastically enhance the security measures at the cost of sacrificing the academic freedom enjoyed by generations of scholars? This reminds me of the restructuring of the Universities Service Centre for China Studies of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which scholars worry will seriously harm the status of this ‘Mecca of China Studies.’ Are the new rules on the Special Collection a precursor of ‘red line mentality’ to be applied to this “Mecca of Hong Kong Studies?” Peter Yeung Kwok-hung, the first chief of the Special Collection, writes in his The Life of Hong Kong in Old Books and Periodicals that the missions of the Collection are to collect books, compile catalogues and promote its wider use. May I request my alma mater to enlighten me how the new restrictions imposed on the Collection can ‘promote its wider use?’ Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times. Follow Hans Yeung is a former manager at the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority, specializing in history assessment. He is also a historian specializing in modern Hong Kong and Chinese history. He is the producer and host of programs on Hong Kong history and a columnist for independent media. He now lives in the UK with his family. Email: [email protected]

Recent Changes to the HKU Library Reflect Red Line Mentality?

I was admitted to the University of Hong Kong in 1989. After getting my BA I proceeded to post-graduate study, and gained my PhD in 1999. In my ten-year full-time stay in HKU, besides the Main Building which had been the teaching base of the Faculty of Arts before it moved to the Centennial Campus, the place I frequented most was the Library, especially the Special Collection (officially known as Hung On-To Memorial Library).

That is a huge treasure for Hong Kong studies researchers, and those like me who researched Guangzhou history also benefited as the Collection truthfully reflects the close tie between the twin cities. During my PhD study, I stayed there day and night to process microfilms of old Hong Kong newspapers especially The Chinese Mail (Huazi ribao), the most respectable one at its time.

Intimidated by the cost of making photocopies from microfilms, I typed all the materials using a laptop computer; hence my Chinese word processing speed of 100 words a minute after all those years. I benefitted from the academic freedom in colonial Hong Kong, and years of searching through the bookshelves and leisure reading at a window table, gave me knowledge and wisdom.

However, in new Hong Kong, red lines reign everywhere, with education being hit particularly hard. I was informed that the pure land at the Special Collection has now probably become history.

On May 18, 2022, the HKU Library announced a new arrangement on the use of the Collection. Prior appointment is now mandatory, implying that full-time researchers may be not able to stay there all day every day, and walk-in visitors are simply not granted access.

All window tables have been removed. Readers can no longer spend all the time between bookshelves. Rather, they now need to take the books they need, check them out at the counter, and read in the new small reading area facing the counter. Security measures of this kind, which had been there and only applicable to those who consulted rare books, are now extended to all users of the Collection. Does this new spatial design emphasising centralised management aim at monitoring all users of the Collection?

What is more worrying is about the photocopying arrangement. Users need to fill in a request form giving details of materials to be copied. On the form is a list of declarations, and the fourth item is the most distressing: “I understand that the copies are for my personal use only and are not transferable.” My history researcher friends wonder whether this implies that such materials must not be shared with one’s thesis supervisor and classmates, and not be transferred to the project leader after being prepared by a research assistant.

Will such sharing and transference constitute contravening the HKU library regulations and result in penalties? A friend who is a research assistant jokingly said that if this was to be implemented literally this would lead to a wave of unemployment of research assistants in the relevant fields.

A friend asked the Special Collection staff about why the change, and “book theft” was given as the reason. However, this causes more questions than it answered: does it suggest that there had been no significant book theft problem in the Special Collection since it was founded until recent years, coinciding with the coming of the National Security Law?

Is the problem of book theft particularly serious in the Special Collection that it needs to drastically enhance the security measures at the cost of sacrificing the academic freedom enjoyed by generations of scholars?

This reminds me of the restructuring of the Universities Service Centre for China Studies of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which scholars worry will seriously harm the status of this ‘Mecca of China Studies.’ Are the new rules on the Special Collection a precursor of ‘red line mentality’ to be applied to this “Mecca of Hong Kong Studies?”

Peter Yeung Kwok-hung, the first chief of the Special Collection, writes in his The Life of Hong Kong in Old Books and Periodicals that the missions of the Collection are to collect books, compile catalogues and promote its wider use. May I request my alma mater to enlighten me how the new restrictions imposed on the Collection can ‘promote its wider use?’

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


Follow

Hans Yeung is a former manager at the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority, specializing in history assessment. He is also a historian specializing in modern Hong Kong and Chinese history. He is the producer and host of programs on Hong Kong history and a columnist for independent media. He now lives in the UK with his family. Email: [email protected]