Saturday, May 12, 2007

What message does the CUSP incident send us?

I know it's exam season, but I feel I should give me two cents to the continuing CUSP 《中大學生報》 saga. Ironically, if this incident happened in the UK or the US, it would not merit any attention, let alone the half-baked media discussion these days. The reason why this topic has become the "talk of the town" is precisely because it's happening in Hong Kong, a so-called "modern" metropolitan that is wrapped in social conservatism and backwardness.

This incident can be analyzed from a few angles. While I'm not endorsing the way the CUSP editorial board framed some of the questions in the "sex survey," I do not think many of the critics actually read the March issue in question. I hereby excerpt the original online version of the questionnaire, and I urge you to determine whether these questions appeal to the prurient interests of the average reader, or in fact attempt to increase of awareness of the lack of meaningful sexual dialogue on campus.

The line is somehow blurred with the arguable suggestions of incest and bestiality; yet several factors tend to support that the newspaper did not have ill intentions to begin with. First, the font of the survey is small (as it is in the printed version) and the words are extremely condensed. Photos are few and far between (other than the two almost black and white pictures of dull objects shown). If the newspaper intended this discussion to be outrageous, it would have at least made the fonts larger and included photos of naked women or men.

Second, only 4 out of the 14 questions raised in the survey are borderline "pornographic" or "obscene." At best, an argument can be made to say these questions are "distasteful." In fact, I wholeheartedly dispute the choice of words and the manner in which these questions are asked, but there is nothing fundamentally wrong with asking them, especially from an academic perspective.

When Alfred Kinsey conducted his research on human sexual behavior, he raised even more outrageous questions to his target audience. And he was funded by the Rockfeller Institute on his scholastic and scientific study of sexuality, giving rise to the two influential bestsellers Sexual Behavior in the Human Male in 1948 and Sexual Behavior in the Human Female in 1953. (Note: these books were published almost 60 years ago. Let me remind you we live in the year 2007!)

I was appalled by the media's reaction to the CUSP incident, as some of the mainstream newspapers made this a public outcry, some 2 months after the survey's first publication in March 2007. According to many of the CU students, when the March issue first came out, virtually no one paid attention to the page in question. Accordingly, the CU administration did not take any action then (simply because it did not know about it).

A week after the public outcry in May 2007, the CU administration decided to take action, albeit a much delayed and unnecessary one, to ban the CUSP from further publication and threaten to sanction the 12 editorial staff of the newspaper (including possible expel from CU). Frankly, I was even more appalled by CU's actions, as they amount to trample on the freedom of speech and academic freedom of CU.

Eric Hoffer once said, "The central task of education is to implant a will and facility for learning; it should produce not learned but learning people." Bill Beattie proclaimed, "The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think - rather to improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than to load the memory with the thoughts of other men."

What the CU administration did was just the opposite - it stifled opinion rather than accepted it. The college campus is the ideal place to encourage intellectual discourse and free flow of information. The university should have the generosity to embrace rebellious thoughts and groundbreaking ideas. Unfortunately, the CU administration chose the cowardly way out, i.e. to exert parental pressure over the defenseless students and threaten to expel them just before the final examination period. If there were any "disgrace" to CU's reputation, it by all means came from CU's handling of the situation.

Incidentally, the method CU employed is exactly a mirror image of the SAR Administration since 1997. It all looked uncannily familiar. Above all, the CUSP incident is a wake-up call to Hong Kong people. Its impact is twofold. First, it reminds us that as a people, we are backward and old-fashioned and still afraid to talk about sex openly. Second, the government's prosecution of dissenting opinion in the society has descended to the academic environment. If we let this happen, students will soon be afraid to voice their opinions, and that will be an end to the freedom of education.

So what kind of world do we want our children to live in? A place where we can freely discuss our thoughts or one that resembles the old East Germany? Should we ban books like Camus' Caligula and all Victoria literature that contains incestuous themes? Or should we openly admit that incest is a societal problem that must be dealt with positively?

If CUSP did one thing wrong this time, it was the editors' lack of taste in phrasing the questions. Thus, in addition to literature, humanity studies and other scholarly pursuits, all Hong Kong Universities should start the curriculum of "The Art of Precision," (精緻文化) a term invented and made popular by the late Taiwanese media tycoon 張繼高. The Art of Precision focuses on the art of living with exquisite taste and style. It ranges from how to listen to Beethoven Symphony No. 9 to how to sip wine in an elegant manner. Most of all, it emphasizes that a good sense of humor can put an end to all superfluous human conflicts. If the editors of CUSP took a course in that subject, I could guarantee that this debacle would never have occurred.

If any of the institutions needed a lecturer in "The Art of Precision," I would gladly donate my time and expertise.

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