Hong Kong denies visa to prominent Tiananmen Square scholar
A Hong Kong professor who researched the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown has been fired from her university position after the city’s immigration authorities declined to extend her visa.
Until this week Rowena He served as an associate professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where she received outstanding teaching awards in 2020 and 2021.
He is also the author of the well-received 2014 book Tiananmen Exiles: Voices of the Struggle for Democracy in China, and has published numerous articles in Chinese and English on China’s democracy movement and its aftermath.
CUHK confirmed that He had been let go when she failed to secure an employment visa. She is currently listed as on leave from the university after receiving a fellowship from the National Humanities Center in the United States.
“Visa decisions are a matter for the Immigration Department and the university is unable to influence visa outcomes, and nor is it aware of the circumstances of individual cases,” a university spokesperson said.
The Hong Kong Immigration Department typically does not comment on individual cases.
Writing on the social media platform X, Sophie Richardson, former China director at Human Rights Watch described He as an “extraordinary scholar-teacher” and said her visa denial was “further evidence” of Chinese government “censorship and revisionism in academia”.
The Hong Kong government has denied visas to its foreign critics including journalists working for the Financial Times and the Economist and activists including Benedict Rogers, the co-founder of the advocacy group Hong Kong Watch.
Hong Kong, a former British colony, played a critical role in helping many Tiananmen Square student leaders escape to the West and was for years the only place on Chinese soil to commemorate the crackdown by armed troops on peaceful protesters.
But that tradition changed after Beijing imposed sweeping national security legislation in 2020 after the territory was rocked by months of pro-democracy protests the previous year.
Protests and vigils were banned during the COVID-19 pandemic, but police have refused to clarify whether commemorations remain legal since the health restrictions were lifted.
Tiananmen Square memorials have also disappeared from Hong Kong, including the Pillar of Shame, a sculpture that was installed on the University of Hong Kong’s campus until it was removed in 2021, and a small museum dedicated to the protest. Books about the event were also moved from Hong Kong libraries earlier this year.
Prior to joining the CUHK history department, He previously taught at Harvard University, Wellesley College, and Saint Michael’s College, according to her staff biography page. She is also a research associate of Harvard’s Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies.
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