Incensed by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government’s curriculum revisions, angry at the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) continued attempts to brainwash them, 90,000 of the territory’s residents took to the streets in the biggest show of anti-Chinese sentiment since the British handed it back to China 15 years ago. The protesters are saying that if the Hong Kong government does not pull back, they might boycott classes. It seems their dissatisfaction with China’s influence has reached boiling point.
The territory’s government has decided to incorporate a new “Moral and National Education” course into the elementary-school curriculum from September. These courses are about the Chinese communists, but their biased and rosy portrayal of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the way it governs has been met with a backlash. A handbook, entitled The Chinese Model, distributed by the Hong Kong Education Bureau as a teaching reference, contains sections encouraging schoolchildren to have a sense of national identity with, and nationalistic pride in, China, cultivate a sense of patriotism and love of the CCP, and sing the praises of the party. This is why residents are accusing their government of attempting to brainwash their children on Beijing’s behalf.
Rulers have the power to interpret history in their own way and to exercise control over how the subject is taught in schools. It has happened throughout history, as new regimes take over, or a new dynasty overthrows the former. It offers a way to establish the legitimacy of their rule and facilitate indoctrination of the local populace. It comes as no surprise that Beijing would want to implement a new curriculum addressing lingering allegiance to the British crown and that would be more favorable to the Chinese regime. However, both the way in which this is done and the way local residents respond are crucial.
Although Hong Kong island and Kowloon had been ceded in perpetuity to Britain and the New Territories were under a 99-year lease, residents had no experience with full-blown democracy. However, they do enjoy a high level of education and freedom. Information is freely available and there is a distinct awareness of the rule of law. This is very different from the situation in China.
Beijing is going to find it much harder to indoctrinate Hong Kong residents than it did with the mainland population. Ever since the CCP took power, Hong Kong has been the free world’s window on China. Hong Kong residents are all too aware of what the CCP is like and how it chooses to govern. They are very familiar with recent Chinese history: the Cultural Revolution, the Tiananmen Square massacre, the uprisings in Tibet and Xinjiang and the CCP’s handling of dissidents Ai Wei wei (艾未未), Chen Guangcheng (陳光誠) and countless others before them, as well as wayward officials such as Bo Xilai (薄熙來), so there is no way people in Hong Kong are going to fall for fairy tales of how magnanimous or perfect the CCP is. It is natural that they would oppose such a whitewashed version of history.
Sunday’s protest was the result of the complacency of the Hong Kong government and Beijing’s misreading of the situation.
Yes, a government has the right to revise its national curriculum, but there has to be some kind of consensus within a society of what is taught in schools, otherwise people will protest.
The uproar in Hong Kong should serve as food for thought for President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and his government, who want to revise the Taiwanese curriculum to include contentious subjects such as the so-called “1992 consensus.”
The nature of what is taught to children in our schools needs to be subject to open and transparent debate, to be based on fact and respectful of dissenting opinions, to steer away from contentious ideas and to encompass, as much as possible, the prevailing consensus within society.