13 November 2018
Hong Kong's future: Too early to teach them patriotism? Photo: Bloomberg
Hong Kong's future: Too early to teach them patriotism? Photo: Bloomberg

Starting ‘em young on the path to patriotism

A seemingly harmless, if well-intentioned, move by the education bureau to include the study of the Basic Law in the curriculum of primary school students is likely to raise the same controversy as the government’s shelved national education plan two years ago.

It’s never too early to teach young people the basic principles that govern Hong Kong following its handover to Chinese rule in 1997. But coming in the wake of Beijing’s controversial white paper on the concept of “one country, two systems”, which asserts that the central government has “comprehensive jurisdiction” over the city, the latest education plan inspires suspicious thoughts as to what its true intentions are.

On Thursday, the education bureau issued a circular to primary schools, calling for the strengthening of the students’ understanding of the “one country, two systems” principle and the Basic Law, the city’s mini constitution, as well as fostering their awareness of their ethnic identity.

Could this not be another attempt at brainwashing, at conditioning the malleable minds of very young people, at a time when they are not yet capable of critical thinking, so that when they grow up, they will not question the primacy of the Communist Party and its rule over all of China, including Hong Kong? What happens now to the “two systems” principle? That’s the nagging fear among teachers and parents and almost everyone else who cares about the future of this city.

From the perspective of the authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong, developing patriotism among the people is not only vital to building a strong and cohesive society that looks to China as the motherland; it is urgent.

According to a survey by the public opinion program of University of Hong Kong in December, only 17 percent of the respondents in the 18 to 29 age bracket trust the central government, while 65 percent distrust Beijing. Also, 60 percent of the respondents identified themselves as Hong Kong people, while only 7 percent considered themselves as Chinese. Clearly, Beijing has been unable to win the hearts and minds of the young people of Hong Kong.

As such, the move to strengthen the study of the Basic Law and the “one country, two systems” principle could be seen as the government’s latest attempt to revive the controversial national education curriculum.

In 2012, the education bureau developed a new Chinese civic education curriculum bearing the title “Moral, Civic and National Education” to “develop the students’ ability to analyze and judge issues relating to personal, family, social, national and global issues at different developmental stages”. The initial goal was to introduce national education to all of primary schools in September of that year and to secondary schools in 2013.

However, the plan drew intense disapproval from Hong Kong people, who saw it as another form of indoctrination.  It also gave rise to student activism.  A group of secondary school students led by Joshua Wong Chi-fung formed an organization called Scholarism to pursue the campaign against national education. The students saw the plan to nurture patriotism among the youth as a scheme to make them acknowledge Beijing’s rule and accept all its policies.

Scholarism soon developed into one of the most aggressive political organizations in Hong Kong. It expanded its mission beyond monitoring and opposing the national education scheme, and soon became a strong advocate of the city’s autonomy from Beijing. When the issue of universal suffrage emerged, the group joined other pan-democratic groups in demanding the public nomination of candidates to the 2017 chief executive election and opposing the central government’s insistence on having only Beijing-friendly nominees. 

So the move to develop Hong Kong’s youth into supporters of Beijing policies has had the opposite result. It has helped radicalize the youth to question the moves and motives of the central government that affect the freedoms they enjoy and cherish in their beloved city.

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EJ Insight writer

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