Amid controversy sparked by a Facebook post from Joseph Tsai ’86 LAW ’90, Yale administrators defended the donor’s right to free speech, even as his defense of China’s “territorial integrity” conflicted with many Yale professors’ views on the Hong Kong protests.
On Oct. 6, Tsai posted on Facebook that all Chinese citizens should be united in their support of “the country’s sovereignty over her homeland.” Supporting a separatist movement in a Chinese territory is a “third-rail issue” and is “non-negotiable,” Tsai said. His post came on the heels of controversies prompted by social media posts in support of independence protests in Hong Kong. Earlier in October, a Twitter post from Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey supporting the protests — which has since been deleted — faced severe backlash from Chinese fans and resulted in the Chinese Basketball Association suspending ties with the Rockets.
For his part, Tsai — who purchased full ownership rights to the Brooklyn Nets in August for $2.35 billion — said he is sure Morey is a “fine NBA general manager” but said “the hurt that this incident has caused will take a long time to repair.” Tsai’s defense of China’s territory has so far garnered almost 9,000 Facebook reactions and almost 4,000 Twitter likes.
“What is the problem with people freely expressing their opinion?” Tsai said. “This freedom is an inherent American value, and the NBA has been very progressive in allowing players and other constituents a platform to speak out on issues … Supporting a separatist movement in a Chinese territory is one of those third-rail issues, not only for the Chinese government but also for all citizens in China.”
Although the University has not taken an official stance on Hong Kong protests or the controversy surrounding Morey’s post in China, Tsai’s critique of Hong Kong protests stand at odds with what many members of the Yale community believe about the issue. Earlier this fall, assistant professor of history Denise Ho told the News that most Yale professors she has talked to have been supportive of protestors’ right to free assembly and expression. Like the protestors, the professors “continue to be alarmed about the extradition bill and allegations of police brutality,” Ho said.
For her part, University spokesperson Karen Peart underscored Yale’s support for free speech for all members of the University community.
“Yale vigorously supports free speech on our campus, and the University encourages all our students to participate in open discussions,” Peart said. “Whether students agree or disagree with [Tsai], Yale encourages them to [voice opinions] about matters important to them.”
Peart added that Tsai’s post has neither altered his “commitment to Yale’s mission” nor his relationship with the University.
“Mr. Tsai champions education and research at Yale and other institutions,” Peart wrote. “He volunteers his time, expertise and resources to provide educational opportunities for our students and to support the work of our faculty.”
She added that alumni “naturally have various points of view” and said Tsai was “participating in public discourse” by offering his personal opinion about a timely issue.
Meanwhile, Hana Davis ’20 — a Hong Kong resident and a former Weekend editor at the News — said that she believed Tsai’s posts were “misinformed.” The historical comparison he drew to past examples of foreign occupation does not fairly represent the Hong Kong independence movement, Davis said.
For his part, Nathan Law GRD ’20 — a pro-Hong Kong activist who came to campus this year to pursue a master’s degree in East Asian Studies — said he believes Tsai’s comments were “fundamentally wrong.” Free expression is not an inherently American value but one “enjoyed by people around the world,” including in Hong Kong, Law said.
In the past, University administrators have displayed restraint from commenting on controversial political issues, even when they involve alumni. While Blackstone founder Stephen A. Schwarzman ’69 drew widespread criticism from students and faculty members for his outspoken support for President Trump, Yale administrators have defended the business mogul’s right to free speech and ties to the University.
Tsai’s net worth is estimated to be $9.6 billion according to Forbes Magazine.
Emily Tian | firstname.lastname@example.org