Students upset UB displays outdated colonial Hong Kong flag

UB has no plans to remove flags until Student Union renovation finalized

flags

An outdated Hong Kong flag hangs in 215 Student Union.

To some students, the flag is simply that — outdated. 

To others, it’s a relic of British colonial rule that has not officially represented Hong Kong since 1997. It’s not just inaccurate to them, but a painful reminder of the island’s colonial history, they said. 

They want UB to remove it and replace it with the current flag of Hong Kong. 

John Wood, vice provost for International Education, said UB has no plans to remove the flag from the Flag Room until UB finalizes plans for the future of the SU. Wood wrote in an email to concerned students that UB is considering removing the display, since a number of the flags are outdated. The flags were a gift from the class of ‘93, and UB has not replaced them since. Currently, eight of the 48 flags are displayed incorrectly, according to Peter Ansoff, president of the North American Vexillological Association, a flag studies organization. 

Hong Kong’s history of colonization dates back to British rule in 1842, according to history professor Kristin Stapleton. In 1997, China took control of the island, but some citizens have protested the change in control, with the most recent protest taking place on Sunday.

Students from the Chinese Students and Scholars Association first emailed the Office of International Student Services in February expressing concerns about the Hong Kong flag displayed. 

Wood responded in an email that UB is reconsidering the future of the Flag Room, as two flags presented are no longer accurate and the “limited number of flags” fails to represent all students.

Wood said he would notify the students “once [UB has] determined how to proceed.”

Xingyu Chen, vice president of the UB Group for International Graduate Students, said she found the response “vague” and “typical bureaucracy.”

“The colonial flag issue cannot be aggregated into the issue of room renovation,” Chen, a global gender and sexuality studies Ph.D. student, said. “The past trauma of colonialism and imperialism still haunts [us] among UB’s campus, [and] is now exacerbated by the government policy and the UB administration's lack of respect and negligence of background research.” 

Not everyone feels the flag needs to be removed or changed. 

Takhei Kwok, president of the Hong Kong Student Association, said the colonial flag is not incorrect, “it is just not the current flag.”

“Some people may see this flag as part of Hong Kong’s history. Some others may find this flag offensive or unpatriotic,” Kwok, a sophomore electrical engineering major, said. “There is no right or wrong.”

Kwok said HKSA has not heard any student complaints regarding the flag.

Ansoff said most of the flags are displayed appropriately, but a few displays are “questionable.” 

He said the Hong Kong and Mauritania flags are “obsolete.” The Polish flag is the state version –– used primarily on ships and at diplomatic posts –– whereas the version citizens use does not display the coat of arms. Ansoff said the Korean flag seems to have been “made incorrectly,” as the header appears to be at the bottom.

He also said subnational flags such as those of Hong Kong and Puerto Rico are typically placed next to their national flags — China and the U.S. respectively — unlike their current alphabetical presentation in the flag room. 

Ansoff said the vertical presentation of the flags is “correct per U.S. and Canadian protocol” but leaves flags with inscriptions backwards. The Cyprus, Argentina, Sri Lanka and Puerto Rico flags are facing the opposite way of other flags, a minor issue, according to Ansoff.

Ansoff said his comments are simply observations and don’t imply whether or not the display should be changed.

“One could argue that the overall display has historical value in and of itself, and should be kept intact for that reason,” Ansoff said. “On the other hand, some observers might find certain aspects questionable.”

Stapleton said flags can be “divisive” and aren’t the best way to represent UB’s “global reach.”

“They can stir up patriotism but they also stir up a lot of disputes,” Stapleton said. “They’re kind of a concentration of an idea of a nation that convey a meaning to each individual person but don’t necessarily reflect any common understanding.”

Chen said she hopes UB will change the presentation and apologize for any cultural misrepresentations. She said this will “help the UB community to reclaim the power and the positive vibes of mutual respect.”

Maria Wallace, director of Student Unions, said the Flag Room will likely be “repurposed” under the Student Union master plan, which UB will be implement after this year.

“The flags will be taken down and hopefully, repurposed in some way,” Wallace said. “If in fact there is some reflection of flags and other items from various countries, perhaps, they would be digital and then easily updated.”

Jacklyn Walters is a co-senior news editor and can be reached at Jacklyn.Walters@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @JacklynUBSpec.

JACKLYN WALTERS


 Jacklyn Walters is a junior communication major. She enjoys bringing up politics at the dinner table and seeing dogs on campus.