Can there ever be a meeting point between Hong Kongers and mainland Chinese? Not if the high-pitched campaign against the introduction of ‘National Education’ in Hong Kong which ended recently is any indicator.
It was way back in 2001 that the idea of introducing ‘Moral and Civic Education’ in Hong Kong was first mooted. The design was revised in 2008. It’s taken four years to actually implement it, and now plans to do so have been temporarily postponed, so intense has been the opposition. One wonders if the reaction would have been equally strong had elections to the Legislative Council not coincided with the introduction of the new curriculum.
It probably would, going by the way a handbook to the teaching of ‘National Education’ has been written. Called The China Model, it glorifies the one-party system in China, runs down America’s two-party system, and lauds the Communist Party of China as “selfless and enlightened”. Did the authors really think this would be accepted in a city where every year public protests are held on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown?
The funny thing is such brainwashing hasn’t worked even on the mainland. An essay by a mainland student, posted by a Hong Kong professor on the internet, describes mainland students’ contempt towards such education, which forms part of their school life all through. In middle school, they realize that teachers who make students work extra on this subject do so only to get approval from the principal, who, in turn, gets bonus points from the education department. In university, during classes teaching Marxist-Leninism, Mao Ze Dong and Deng Xiaoping Thought (why teach the first two when only the third is practised?), they take naps, watch movies on their mobiles and boo those who answer questions in class. So what’s so scary about ‘National Education’, asks the student. Knowing all of it to be a bunch of lies, students mug it up to get good grades. Well, that happens all over the world. Besides, Hong Kong’s kids wouldn’t have to mug anything: there are to be no exams for the subject.
But that doesn’t mean students won’t be evaluated on their love for the motherland. Apparently, notices have already gone out to primary schools to send details of students’ participation in ‘National Education’ activities to the Education Bureau. Going on study tours to the mainland is seen as part of such activities. A recent trip by Hong Kong students to Mao’s hometown and to Yunnan, the base of the CPC, was seen by opponents of the new curriculum as an attempt at brainwashing. Interestingly, one of the features of the new course is making students recall their place of origin. Most Hong Kong Chinese students are descendants of mainlanders, who fled Communist China.
The campaign against ‘National Education’ was a colourful affair: a school boycott by teachers, a hunger strike by students, sit-ins and public music concerts, assertions by Hong Kong-born Indian and Pakistani students that they would be seen as “outsiders” if Chinese nationalism was emphasised, and marches where primary school kids shouted slogans and spoke into TV cameras. On the other side were mainlanders angry at the Hong Kongers’ animosity towards them. “Where would Hong Kong be without us?’’ asked a furious Cantonese restaurateur, convinced that foreign governments were behind the protests. Lost in this din were voices of teachers, who felt that the ‘National Education’ course could become a much-needed opportunity for Hong Kong students to learn Chinese history. Chinese history, which was a compulsory subject under the British, was made optional after Hong Kong came under Chinese rule. In Hong Kong’s market-driven society, it finds few takers.