25 August 2019
Regina Ip (left) blames Antony Leung (right) for the supposed failure of the liberal studies program. She said the curriculum has instilled wrong ideologies in students. Photo: HKEJ
Regina Ip (left) blames Antony Leung (right) for the supposed failure of the liberal studies program. She said the curriculum has instilled wrong ideologies in students. Photo: HKEJ

How liberal studies blame game is splitting pro-govt camp

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his advisers have been racking their brains trying to “explain” why the ongoing student movement happened.

They first accused the students of trying to overthrow the SAR government to incite Hong Kong independence. Their only evidence is a banner outside the government complex in Admiralty that reads “have our say on our own fate”.

Yet, even Zhang Junsheng, deputy director (1987-1998) of Xinhua news agency Hong Kong branch, the predecessor of the Liaison Office, called the accusation “a false notion”.

Leung and his allies then began to make a big fuss about supposed meddling by foreign forces in Hong Kong affairs.

They spread rumors that Scholarism’s Joshua Wong received intensive training from the United States on how to mobilize the masses and that the National Endowment for Democracy and some US intelligence units have been conducting secret missions in Hong Kong.

But Legislative Council President Jasper Tsang, a respected member of the leftist camp, is not buying this extreme theory. He told a Cable TV interview he sees no shadow of overseas forces in the protests.

The latest government scapegoat is liberal studies.

Executive councilor Regina Ip, chairwoman of New People’s Party, said the liberal studies program, introduced in 2009 as a compulsory subject, has instilled politically incorrect ideologies and incited tens of thousands of students to take to the streets.

The statement is rather ironic given the government has been running the Basic Law Promotion Steering Committee since the 1997 handover.

The committee is chaired by the chief secretary, with five government ministers on the panel. If the liberal studies program is to blame for stirring up the movement, it’s fair to say the well-funded Basic Law committee is meaningless.

Ip’s accusation is doing the chief executive a favor by saving him all the embarrassment.

The curriculum was introduced during the administration of Tung Chee-hwa. It’s no secret that Tung nurtured Leung all the way to the top job.

Tung subordinates such as Fanny Law and Arthur Li, who both served as education minister, will be embarrassed if Leung starts blaming the education policy for the supposed fiasco.

Ip’s sniping at the liberal studies policy can help scare off potential rivals for a 2017 run.

They include Antony Leung, who was chairman of the Education Commission from 1998 to 2001. He was responsible for reform that led to the rollout of liberal studies to “help each student to respect pluralism of cultures and views, and be a critical, reflective and independent thinker”.

Antony Leung suddenly finds himself in a vulnerable position in an authoritarian regime that regards people who think independently as a threat.

But he is fighting back. Ip has her own Achilles’ heel: Article 23 of the Basic Law. Last week, Leung said the current impasse partly resulted from the failed enactment of a vital clause which dealt with national security.

Ip was caught off guard after media reports said she had been a key advocate of liberal studies.

She responded by saying what she has been supporting is “a US-style, quality subject that puts emphasis on the study of classical works”. She called Leung’s liberal studies initiative a sham. 

But I wonder whether Ip’s remarks are not suicidal.

Beijing might think that if a “sham” liberal studies curriculum can have such an impact on students, there’s no telling what damage a real “quality” liberal subject can cause.

The only outcome of this blame game is a bigger split in the establishment camp.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 10.

Translation by Frank Chen

– Contact us at [email protected]


A liberal studies program aimed at cultivating independent thinking is being blamed for inciting students to take to the streets. The blame game is mostly among pro-establishment personalities. Photo: HK Government

Former full-time member of the Hong Kong Government’s Central Policy Unit, former editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe