HKBU International Symposium Initiates Global Dialogue on the Role of Culture in the COVID-19 Pandemic


Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) held the online international symposium “COVID-19 and Beyond, Culturally Speaking” on 15 and 16 September, and over 1300 participants from all over the world gathered to examine and reflect on the COVID-19 pandemic from a cultural perspective.

While the COVID-19 pandemic is commonly perceived as a public health issue with the solutions to the crisis clearly defined in the scientific and medical domains, the economic, educational, generational, and social crises regularly traced back to COVID-19 are in fact largely the result of culture. The symposium, which was a unique HKBU initiative, aimed to foster conversations that help define the challenges and articulate the solutions to issues related to the pandemic from a cultural perspective.

The symposium was organized by HKBU’s Faculty of Arts with the support of the Office of the Vice-President (Research and Development) and the School of Communication, and Professor Mette Hjort, Dean of Arts and Chair Professor of Humanities, and Professor John Erni, Head of the Department of Humanities and Creative Writing and Fung Hon Chu Endowed Professor in Humanics as the symposium’s co-convenors.

In his opening remarks, Professor Roland Chin, President of HKBU, said: “To wear a mask or not to wear a mask, to do voluntary testing or to refuse it, to comply with or to defy strict social distancing, these are all cultural questions. In future when the vaccine is available, to take a jab or not is also a cultural issue. We gathered world-renowned experts to provide solutions to the pandemic from a cultural perspective by hosting the online international symposium titled ‘COVID-19 and Beyond, Culturally Speaking’.”

In the symposium’s opening session, Professor Guo Yike, Vice-President (Research and Development) of HKBU, described the symposium as a starting point for generating awareness and creating dialogues on the importance of culture in relation to the battle against the pandemic.

“From attitudes towards mask-wearing and quarantine measures, to the balance between life and living, culture has played a fundamental role. HKBU, as a liberal arts university, has science and the humanities under the same roof, working side by side. We want to take this opportunity to extend our experience and vision in a much broader sense, and join forces to manage this crisis of mankind,” said Professor Guo.

The symposium included seven discussion panels for speakers to exchange ideas on selected themes of interest. Spanning across four major areas, the themes ranged from “crisis communications” and “science and conscience” to “death and survival” and “individual interests versus collective welfare”.

Five keynote speakers also shared their insights with participants. On 15 September, Professor Cui Zhanfeng, Director of the Oxford Centre for Tissue Engineering and Bioprocessing, University of Oxford, UK, addressed the topic “Rapid and Affordable Viral Test for COVID-19 – a Potential Game Changer”; Professor Zhang Wenhong, Head of the Centre of Infectious Diseases, Huashan Hospital of Fudan University, mainland China, spoke on the topic “Eliminating COVID-19: Challenge and Opportunity”; and Ms Zain Verjee, journalist and CEO of the Zain Verjee Group, Kenya, discussed the topic “Coronavirus in Africa: The Impact and Adjustments on the Continent”.

On 16 September, Dr George Hong, Professor, Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education, Fordham University, USA, talked about “Balancing Predicament of Propriety in Combatting COVID-19 Pandemic: Comparative Cases of China and the United States”; and Professor Zhang Zuofeng, Professor of Epidemiology, UCLA, USA, spoke about “COVID-19 Pandemic: epidemiology and future trends”.

The symposium brought together over 30 prominent speakers who are renowned academics and experts from the fields of epidemiology, philosophy, medical humanities, cultural and film studies, as well as art and design. The speakers came from different countries and regions around the world, including Australia, Canada, mainland China, Hong Kong, Denmark, France, Ireland, Japan, Kenya, South Africa, the UK, and the USA.