A cannon known as Old Jeremiah on the University of Guelph has become a focal point of debate over a political crisis in Hong Kong, a city gripped by massive protests fighting against the influence of a dictator and standing for lasting democracy.
It was on the evening of Nov. 24 that students part of the Hong Kong Student Radio Association arrived at 9 p.m. to paint Old Jeremiah, a tradition at this university, with the words “stand with Hong Kong” and “free Hong Kong” in yellow paint on a black background.
Early the next morning, a Sunday, one side of the cannon was painted over in purple and later in the day the words “stand with Hong Kong” were scrapped off, according to what students told The Ontarion, an independent student newspaper at the university.
Also missing was a “Lennon wall”, a bristol board covered with messages supportive of Hong Kong’s democratic freedom. It was then that rumours spread pointing the blame for the new paint job was the Chinese Students and Scholars Association, The Ontarion reported.
Students from the Hong Kong Student Radio Association, or HKRA, said they painted Old Jeremiah once again with the same design from Sunday.
An argument occurred around 5:30 p.m. on Monday as students arrived to “guard” the newly repainted cannon, according to people familiar with what took place, as over two dozen people were ready to paint the cannon the red of the communist Chinese flag.
By 7 pm. on Monday Old Jeremiah was sporting a design resembling communist China, the mainland administration in Beijing that took back control of Hong Kong in 1997 from the United Kingdom.
Protests in Hong Kong started in June. Millions marched in the streets against an extradition bill that would have allowed the extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China, ruled by the Communist Party.
Critics thought that this could “undermine judicial independence and endanger dissidents”, according to BBC reporting. The bill was removed in September under immense pressure from protests that sometimes turned violent.
Rallies continue in the streets of Hong Kong nonetheless, demanding a restoration of democracy and further investigation into the actions of police.
The debate taking place at the University of Guelph campus mirrors a larger, more dangerous skirmish happening at the same time in Hong Kong, where post-secondary campuses were for 12 days ground zero for some of the protests.
The Avro Post has reached out to the Humber Chinese Student Association for their take on the current tensions a world away and here in Canada.