Hong Kong Divided over Plans for Patriotic Lessons in Schools

Several tens of thousands of parents, teachers, students and children took to the streets on Sunday to protest plans to introduce "national education” into local schools at the behest of Beijing

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Dale de la Rey / AFP / Getty Images

Demonstrators hold a banner at a July 29, 2012, protest against a Hong Kong government plan to introduce a new curriculum into local schools that aims to teach students about China’s history and to strengthen their national identity

Is Hong Kong turning communist? That may be a strange, even silly, question to ask, given that Hong Kong, while a part of China, is an open and boisterous society. Yet many of the city’s residents are agonizing over precisely that question.

The British returned Hong Kong to China 15 years ago under an innovative “one country, two systems” formula that allows the metropolis to retain its freedoms, values and way of life. By and large, the formula has worked, but Hong Kong people are wondering if several recent trends and occurrences signify a pattern whereby their home is gradually becoming more like the mainland.

There is a growing sense that the police are becoming more heavy-handed during demonstrations, as during a visit by President Hu Jintao a month ago, when protesters were controlled with pepper spray and a journalist was detained for asking a question about the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. Mainlanders, whom some Hong Kong people still look down upon as provincial, are seen as taking over the city as they flood in to shop at luxury stores, buy expensive flats and utilize already-stretched social services. Adding to the anger and frustration is the wide perception that Hong Kong’s new leader, Leung Chun-ying, is an agent of Beijing, which he firmly denies.

(PHOTOS: Hong Kong: Anger and Protest as City Marks 15 Years Since Its Return to China)

The latest manifestation of concern over “sinification” is the Hong Kong government’s plan to introduce “national education” into local schools at the behest of Beijing. The new subject aims to teach students about China’s history and culture, as well as to strengthen their national identity and help them “foster a sense of affection for the country,” according to the Education Bureau’s curriculum guide. It will be taught in some elementary schools beginning this September and is to be mandatory in 2015 for all public elementary schools and 2016 for public high schools.

Several tens of thousands of parents, teachers, students and children took to the streets on Sunday, July 29, to protest national education. But the government remains unmoved. Its No. 2, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, told reporters that national education has support from parents and teachers, who want children to “build up their understanding of the country.” Survey figures are conflicting, ranging from 43% teacher support to 80%, depending on who does the study. Lam said the curriculum would go ahead, though she pledged to form a broad-based committee to examine its progress.

Lee Chack-fan, a professor at the University of Hong Kong and the head of the body that devised the national-education-curriculum guidelines, defends national education as learning that will help Hong Kong students in their careers, which will likely involve the mainland. While he acknowledges that instilling national pride is controversial, he says that “whether you identify with the mainland system or otherwise, you still have this Chinese root.”

(VIDEO: Scenes from Hong Kong’s Street Protests)

But much of Hong Kong, whose older generation fled the mainland and communism decades ago, is leery of the controversial new subject’s purpose and its contents. The public balked at the first draft of the curriculum guide, as it omitted topics the Chinese leadership would wish to keep quiet, such as the disastrous 1966–76 Cultural Revolution and the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. The controversy calmed down after those topics were included in a new version of the guide.

But fears were stoked again when a teaching booklet called The China Model was published and distributed to schools by a government-funded, pro-Beijing organization. The booklet calls China’s ruling group “progressive, selfless and united” and criticizes the U.S.’s political system as being detrimental for public good. The text says that in the U.S., “often because of the two parties’ campaigning needs or arguments, annual fiscal plans fail to get passed, and the government shuts down and public services stop, directly affecting the public’s everyday functioning.” In short, the booklet disparages democracy.

While teachers are not required to use The China Model for classes, no mainstream textbook publishers have issued teaching materials for the national-education curriculum yet. For many parents, teachers and students, the booklet’s contents seem to confirm their worries that national education will be a form of brainwashing, and they question why a Marxist theorist academic on the mainland has been put in charge of the curriculum, a revelation uncovered by a local magazine in May. “Hong Kong people feel that the national education proposed is some kind of indoctrination rather than education,” says Leung Yan-wing of the Hong Kong Institute of Education.

Joshua Wong, a 15-year-old leader of a student organization that opposes national education, says students should learn about China, but notes that such information is already included in civic-education classes. He also objects to national education’s goal of cultivating students’ pride, gratitude and emotional connection toward the mainland. He says: “We think a school subject should not use emotions but knowledge as a foundation.”

(PHOTOS: China Celebrates 90 Years of Communism)

The underlying belief among the public is that national education is not about learning but about politics, a way to bind Hong Kong more closely to the mainland. “It appears that Beijing is getting impatient,” says Emily Lau, a legislator who is vice chairman of the Democratic Party. “They want us to have one country, one system. They want us to be like other Chinese cities.”

Yet local sentiment against the mainland — and mainlanders — is rising. Many Hong Kong citizens appreciate being a part of an ever stronger nation and readily accept the economic goodies Beijing often tosses Hong Kong’s way, such as trade and financial privileges not granted to other Chinese jurisdictions. At the same time, Hong Kong folk resent the influx of mainlanders buying up property and stretching the resources of local schools and hospitals, and label them “locusts.” The latest regular survey by the University of Hong Kong about local attitudes toward China showed that 46% of respondents identified themselves as “Hong Kong citizens” and just 18% as “Chinese citizens” (the rest saw themselves as some combination).

Some observers believe that concerns about the sinification of Hong Kong are overblown and that the city has enough safeguards in place. “The fact that you can look at news from 10 different channels, the fact that you’ve got so much open to you means that people are going to get all kinds of information,” says Gordon Mathews, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who studies culture and identity. “There is this hair-trigger mentality of people saying, We will not become like the mainland.”

Still, even those who have participated in the governing of Hong Kong say the territory needs to be vigilant. “We must continue to be alert, to know what really China wants in Hong Kong,” says Allen Lee Peng-fei, former legislator and convener of the Executive Council, an influential advisory body. “We don’t want to be puppets. We don’t want to be only followers.”

MORE: Hong Kong’s New Leader: Alone on the Hill

41 comments
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Leung Man Yi
Leung Man Yi

I think

it is not easy for China to brainwash HK students by introducing national education.

It might work in mainland, but in HK I doubt it. Firstly, we can access to the

internet getting all the info we don’t know without any obstacle. But, still, what

we need to do is being critical when we are scanning all these info. Moreover, HK

teachers and students are not jerks at all. The guideline of this curriculum according

to the edb is nothing more than a direction telling us which to go. As I heard

from an educator, the way to reach it, in fact, it’s all in the teacher’s

hands. Most importantly, street protests seem to be the office routine of many HK people and there is a danger that

with it, we will unconsciously fall into the trap of those politicians who are

wrapping themselves in the flag.

Leung Man Yi
Leung Man Yi

I think it is not easy for China to brainwash HK students by introducing national education. It might work in mainland, but in HK I doubt it. Firstly, we can access to the internet getting all the info we don’t know without any obstacle. But, still, what we need to do is being critical when we are scanning all these info. Moreover, HK teachers and

students are not jerks at all. The guideline of this curriculum according to the edb is nothing more than a direction telling us which to go. As I heard from an educator, the way to reach it, in fact, it’s all in the teacher’s hands. Most importantly, street protests nowadays seem to be the office routine of many HK people and there is a danger that

with it, we will unconsciously fall into the trap of those politicians who are wrapping themselves in the flag.

makalicious
makalicious

Talk about Stockholm syndrome. I've been following this protest and it strikes me as an after effect of the western colonization of HK, blatantly disregarding the hundred years of pro-western slant (pun intended) that most of the protesters grew up with. During the 99 years of British colonial rule in HK: successive governors were all appointed, the majority of the members of the legislative council were appointed, revisionist history of the Opium war from a British point of view taught at schools, the Chinese language was not recognized as an official language until 1974, and prior to 1983 all key government positions were held by non-Chinese.Is it any wonder there are these kinds of protests in HK, where upscale stores will frown and look down on you if you don't speak English?

Wing Fung Lau
Wing Fung Lau

So you mean if we never had democracy before, we should never fight for democracy? If your mum and dad lived in cave, you should never walk out of the cave then.

Regarding to the election of legislative council, we had something called "New Nine Functional Constituencies" in 1995, which was more democratised than the current election  system. It extended the number of eligible voters from 60k to 1.15m. Although it was still not democratised enough, it was still better than the current election system; however, the Chinese Communist Party abolished it after 1997.

makalicious
makalicious

Is deflection using non-sequiturs your modus operandi? Choosing to disregard the fact that the British engaged in the same type of educational indoctrination and political oppression that you are so vehemently against, speaks volumes on your partiality.  Since you live in Sydney, do you take issue with censorship of the internet?  

Wing Fung Lau
Wing Fung Lau

What I mean is whether the British had engaged in oppression in the past  is not related to the current situation. In the past, maybe we didn't care about democracy as much as we do now; however,  it doesn't mean we cannot wake up for democracy today. 

"I didn't do a particular act in the past" does not mean I cant do it now or in the future. People change, you know?

JohanVanLoon
JohanVanLoon

Introducing national or citizen education is a great idea !

Let the Hong Kong youth be taught about human rights violations in China so they can come up with an improved version of what a patriotic Chinese citizen is.

You are not patriotic if you support a regime that tramples on its own people, striving for a real democracy is the most patriotic thing to do...

Wing Fung Lau
Wing Fung Lau

Sorry 

 human rights violations would not be taught in national education.  I don't understand why your first sentence is contrary to the rest of your comment.

Did you really read the article?

Wing Fung Lau
Wing Fung Lau

@cultural_marxism:disqus 

"Americans, Australians and British are separated by Oceans, you fool."

So countries consist of more than one islands like Indonesia and Philippines should be divided into different countries? Separation by Oceans is not a factor to decide independence.

"Whereas Hong Kong and Macau are joined to China by land. And yes it would be good for Canada and US to merge."Scotland is connected to the Britain by land too, but the Scots can have their independence referendum soon. We can see how different the civilization level between the UK and China is.

Again please don't talk to me about ethnic. It is already 21st century. Our races should not be a factor to decide whether we should be in one country or not and we should advocate multiculturalism. Not only Chinese and Hongkongers share the same blood, all people in the world all share the same blood as we humans began in Africa. Therefore, your blood theory cannot stand.

Btw, I am very curious whether Bookevil and you are white or not. I would be very surprised if you are white, as I have never seen a white stands by the China's side on Tibet issues.

Guest
Guest

 unification is based on common identity.  Filipinos have many islands but common identity.  Scots and English have separate identities but one land.

HK and China have one land and one identity. So you are wrong.

What has 21st century got to do with ethnic? Is ethnic identity banned in 21st Century? Why should races not be a factor?

If All humans share the same blood, then all mammals share the same ancestry too. And we are all eukaryotes too. So? That does not mean Whites have to loose their identity.

Wing Fung Lau
Wing Fung Lau

@Bookevil:disqus  No de facto independent Palestinian state has come into existence. Palestine is still occupied by Israel. Hong Kong's situation is like Tibet, Taiwan, Chechnya and Palestine. Hong Kong is not a city only. If HK is mere a city, how can we compete at the Olympics independently of China?

Bookevil
Bookevil

HK is competing at the Olympics with the official title of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of People's Repulic of China. When a HK athlete got a gold medal, China's national anthem will be played. With this much information, how can you still say HK is not only a part of China? 

Again, you can tell people as many times as you want, yet, Hong Kong is only and merely a part of China.

Wing Fung Lau
Wing Fung Lau

@twitter-61334323:disqus 

I see you are now in Australia. If you like your Communist Party so much, why don't you go back to China? It would be a misery for you to stay in an evil democratic country like Australia!

Wing Fung Lau
Wing Fung Lau

@W Chua

So you are promoting the Chinese so-called Communism? True, democracy needs reform, but it is still much better than Communism. Every systems have their  flaws, but democracy has less flaws than Communism. At least, it apparently respect the opinion of everyone. It promotes freedom of speech, freedom of thought, etc. Whereas in China, you can't even have more than one child, with no human rights!

Back to the topic, we need civic education, but not national education! Western countries have civic education but no national education. Civic education teaches us the constitution of our country and the rights and responsibilities of being a citizen. On the other hand, national education is more like a fascist propaganda. It just wants to make our children loyal to the Chinese Communist Party!

Jeffrey Lee
Jeffrey Lee

how do you quantify there are less flaw in democracy? one child policy is the less of two evils. and as a matter of fact, some places in china are allowed to have more than one child. 

Wing Fung Lau
Wing Fung Lau

Does power tend to corrupt, especially when  all  powers are controlled by a single party? In a democratic system, at least it gives us the delusion that the government would be responsible to her people as it is voted by them. However, in a communist system, the communist party does not need to listen to the voice of the public. 

Jeffrey Lee
Jeffrey Lee

there is sthg to keep themselves in check within the system.   listening to the public is important, coz government need to learn about what is going on and there are some good ideas from the public.  but government should never be dominated by the public as in other democratic countries do. 

pleasing everyone means pleasing no one.

democracy is for moral people only

the debate of democracy and the government system i am talking about (i dont know the name of it) will never be ended since both of them are man made system.  but the one thing i know for sure is it that it is wrong to say one is better than another. it is about execution and how fit it is. I believe Chinese government is picking the right one for us and they are doing a good job

Wing Fung Lau
Wing Fung Lau

@barnardshaun

I am so sorry for the people in Qidong as they would "disappear" soon.

W Chua
W Chua

First of all, it is not National education. The exact Chinese word is: 国民教育 - That is 'citizen education' to be accurate.

secondly, one-country-two system is a concept created by China not British- such concept deserve noble peace prize.

Thirdly, western democracy do have a lot of flaws. The statement provided in the Chinese text book about American two party system are accurate and deserve credit.

Western countries should work toward improving their own political systems to better serve the well being of their own population with more jobs, less homeless and poverty.

When people are unemployed, struggling to put food on their tables, and lost their home in large number, I don't think so "democracy" mean much to these people.

Like Australia, American democracy needs reform. This article explain the reason why democracy in its current form, a formula for disaster in the 21st century: http://outcastjournalist.com/i...

Guest
Guest

At least China and Hong Kong is ruled by the patriotic Chinese. Chinese kids are taught to be proud of their culture, heritage.

In America, hostile Jews control our financial system, education, textbooks.

Jewish crooksters indoctrinate White kids to hate their heritage, culture, peoples.

While the Jew floods America with 3rd world, slaughters young white kids in foreign wars, suppresses our wages with mass immigration, annihilate our social cohesion and freedoms, China is going from strength to strength.

Wing Fung Lau
Wing Fung Lau

@Bookevil:disqus 

"...HK has no dependent military and diplomatic authorities, like Singapore does..."

You can talk the same bullshxt to people in Palestine and Tibet.

In addition, Hong Kong is not merely a city. A city would not have its own passport, alright? Hong Kong could be considered as a country, have you ever mail a parcel or letter to HK? The post office would tell you not to write "Hong Kong, China" but "Hong Kong" instead on the addressee to avoid miscommunication.

Bookevil
Bookevil

"You can talk the same bullshxt to people in Palestine and Tibet." 

Be honest and smart, do you think we do not know what you are doing here? You are simply hiding from the question by confusing everybody. Palestine does have its own army forces and diplomatic authority. Tibet has none, because it is part of China, just like HK.

Like it or not, HK is merely, only and solely a cityof China. A specially issued passport does not prove anything. Right on  HK passports, it says Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China. That explains everything. 

As for the post office's trick of avoiding misdelivery, that tells what?

Wing Fung Lau
Wing Fung Lau

Okay, by your logic, Americans, Australians, Canadians and British share the same blood and they should all be in one country.

"... why don't you shift to Mandarin, why keep using Cantonese which is boring...". Let the world see how ridiculous you are, you fascist.

Wing Fung Lau
Wing Fung Lau

@Bookevil:disqus You only consider the past few decades only? For Australia, more than half of the population have ancestries from Britain.  So why don't they call themselves British? Australians have their own identity so do we Hongkongers.I call you ridiculous because you are trying to promote one language over another language.  There are no so called simple languages and you don't respect our mother language.

Sikhs are Brown Supremacists
Sikhs are Brown Supremacists

Americans, Australians and British are separated by Oceans, you fool. Whereas Hong Kong and Macau are joined to China by land. And yes it would be good for Canada and US to merge.

Bookevil
Bookevil

So, what is your logic? These countries speak English, but not sharing the same blood. At least, for America, it is a multi-cultured nation. The majority of immigrants to US of past few decades are not even whites, of course, not English speakers. Where is the same blood thing from?

BTW, like it or not, Mandarin is the simplest oral language in pan-Chinese system. As it just have four different tones, while Cantonese may have as many as 28 tones, depending on local dialects. So, who is the one being rediculous?

Wing Fung Lau
Wing Fung Lau

Hong Kong should be ruled by Hong Kong people, not patriotic Chinese. Hong Kong people have had their own identity since HK was colonised. Hong Kong follows Common Law, respects separation of powers whereas the Chinese only respect their Communist Party.

Please don't say Hong Kong people and Mainland Chinese are the same kind of people! Singaporeans are also ethnically Chinese, but you would not say they are the same as the people in China, would you?It is just like I would not say Americans are British, right?

rory2012
rory2012

 What a dog you are? You guy s call the national education a brainwash program. In fact you guys have been brainwash for a long time from your colonial master.What a bloody shame you are.

Jeffrey Lee
Jeffrey Lee

everyone has their own identity, being hong konger and chinese are not exclusive. same way, you are the son of your father and mother, u cant say you are only the son of father but not your mother. 

come on, you were brainwashed British HK government identity is not only defined by race, but also what you choose to be.  so even is a Singaporean is Chinese doesnt mean they are PRC Chinese, They are Chinese and Singaporean. People can have more than one identities yet some are above another

**HERE IS AN IMPORTANT POINT**

if you are ok with the fact that Hong Kong poeple's identity was changed by the colony government (which is not our own kind), why are you not ok with the fact that Hong Kong people's identity changed by HK or Chinese government (which is our own kind)? Same things being done by Colony government and HK government/Chinese government, you take British Colony government side? I am not ok with that

Wing Fung Lau
Wing Fung Lau

@Bookevil:disqus 

Of course I know, no one can stop the Chinese Communist Party. China under dictatorship can give the most benefits to western countries. Therefore, the only thing I can do is immigrating to another country.

Bookevil
Bookevil

The real miserable ones are you and the jerks like you. HK barely have anything similar with Singapore in politics. HK has no dependent military and diplomatic authorities, like Singapore does.  Simply put, Singapore is a country, while is only a city of CHINA. Apparently, you are not happy about this fact, so go ahead cry as much as you want. Yet, that changes nothing in reality.

Back to the topic, and much saderd to you,  although the author of this article does not want to see more Hong Kongers to be closer to mainland through national education, national eduction is becoming reality sooner or later.

Take home message: you choose to hate the facts above, you choose to be miserable!

Sikhs are Brown Supremacists
Sikhs are Brown Supremacists

they share the same blood don't they? All Han Chinese, or am I wrong? And why don't you shift to Mandarin, why keep using Cantonese which is boring...

barnardshaun
barnardshaun

According to the author'opinion,the people live in mainland china are all bunch of savage people who have no intelligence.But the hongkong people is different,because they can walk on the street and protest?

Wing Fung Lau
Wing Fung Lau

You can read more news about what consequences the mainlanders would have if they walk on the street and protest.

barnardshaun
barnardshaun

And FYI,you so called mainland- china- people have just won a protest  battle with the local goverment in Qidong,(a small town site in Jiangsu  province)Why the time magazine wont print this story?HA?Even the press in mainland china print the incident,for cry our loud!!!!Shame on you!So called democracy!Choose to blind your eyes?