Territories and sovereignty are
Territories and sovereignty are "emotional" issues for Chinese students. Source: Shutterstock.

Australian universities have seen four prominent cases in recent months where Chinese students have alleged their lecturers or teaching materials are incorrect or insulting to China, the BBC reports.

The most recent incident involved a disagreement between a student and his lecturer at the University of Newscastle on the lecturer’s description of Taiwan and Hong Kong as ‘countries’.

A video of the spat was published online, which later led to the university issuing a statement to explain that the course materials were referring to a Transparency International report online which had called Taiwan and Hong Kong as ‘countries’.

“The University of Newcastle has engaged with a range of interested stakeholders, including students, staff and the consulate- general of the People’s Republic of China,” a university spokes­woman responded to The Australian.

In the covertly recorded video, which was later uploaded to YouTube, a student is heard saying (CGTN): “You are making us feel uncomfortable … You have to consider all the students.”

“Exactly, all the students, not one set of students,” another voice replied.

China considers both self-ruled Taiwan and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region as its territories, although residents in both places are increasingly pushing for independence from Beijing.

The incident is the latest in a string of controversies involving Chinese students and their Australian universities, leading academics to voice concerns over its possible impact on free speech and academic freedom in the country’s universities.


According to BBC, the three other incidents are as follows:

1. A Chinese student at the University of Sydney called an IT lecturer’s use of an outdated map listing a contested border area as part of India’s territory as “absolutely intolerable” (SBS). The lecturer later apologised.

2. At the Australian National University, Chinese students were dissatisfied over a PowerPoint presentation by a computer science professor that said: “I will not tolerate students who cheat” in both English and Chinese, which they claim targeted them. After they complained to the Dean’s Office and ANU’s official Facebook page, the professor apologised via email, saying he did not realise it was offensive and that the message was meant to those whose first language was not English. (CN English)

3. A lecturer at Monash University was suspended for posting a test question suggesting Chinese officials only spoke the truth when “drunk or careless” (The Australian). Almost half a million Chinese social media users reacted to the Chinese news report of the said online exam.

Social media and the Chinese embassy

In the most recent incident involving the sovereignty of Hong Kong and Taiwan, a “furious response” ensued on Chinese social media site after Sydney Today, a local Chinese language website, posted the video online, according to CGTN. 

One user @Anzhoudaigou_shuigugu commented on microblogging website Weibo: “Politics shall not be played out in [university] classrooms. This is a basic requirement. The professor’s version is a distortion of facts”.

@LZHahaha asked in another Weibo post: “If Taiwan were a country, why has your country not established diplomatic relationship with Taiwan.”

Merriden Varrall, East Asian director of the Sydney-based think tank Lowy Institute for International Policy, dismissed views that Beijing is trying to influence Chinese citizens in Australian universities, despite the increase in the willingness of Chinese students to unite and “push back” against the perceived “injustice”.

“I don’t think it’s about the Chinese embassy saying do this, act in this way. That’s out of the question, but it certainly reflects students’ beliefs,” Varrall as quoted as saying by News.com.au (via CGTN).

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