Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun is a vivid example of Hong Kong politicians who have something in common: having been given some political perks by Beijing – like rubber-stamp posts in China’s legislature, the National People’s Congress, or the top political advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference – they bend over backward to pledge their allegiance to their mainland masters.
When NPC chairman Zhang Dejiang (張德江), a member of the standing committee of the Communist Party’s Politburo, complained that “Hong Kong’s youth don’t have enough understanding of the country” and suggested there was work to be done to win the hearts of the people of Hong Kong, Law rushed to open fire at the city’s education system.
She said students are subjected to a curriculum with no “historical vision or sense of nationalism”.
I doubt if Law knew what she was saying.
She was the city’s top educational official for several years following the 1997 handover, and one of her most remarkable legacies was the removal of Chinese history from the list of compulsory courses for the secondary school leaving qualification.
Unsurprisingly, the number of students who chose to attend Chinese history classes plummeted to just 6,500 last year from about 30,000 in 1999.
The absence of a historical picture of China is at the root of the apathetic attitude of local youth toward the nation, but Law, who oversaw the expulsion of the course from the compulsory curriculum, now jumps into the blame game and lashes out at the system as if she had nothing to do with it.
Law didn’t just stop there. She has pitched into teachers and called upon the government to send them to the mainland for a month of “know-the-country training” and make that a job requirement.
Through such training, Hong Kong teachers should learn more about China’s many achievements and put themselves in the shoes of its leaders to understand how hard it is to govern such a massive country, she said.
Only then can they develop a genuine recognition of and a strong sense of empathy with the motherland and convey what they have learnt to students, Law argued.
Some teachers’ groups are unhappy, saying Law grossly belittled the role and function of local training.
I agree that not only teachers but all students should be given the opportunity to go to the mainland on exchange trips, but people should be allowed to make the choice whether to go and not be “ordered” to do so.
There is also a prerequisite for such programs to work — the mainland has to produce fair, unbiased textbooks and materials in history and national education.
Hongkongers live in an open metropolis, so never try to fool, brainwash or instil them with lies, propaganda or censored accounts of the nation’s past and the Communist Party’s merits, as such attempts can only backfire.
China has a long history of distorting historical facts and whitewashing past crimes after a new emperor or royal house takes control of the nation.
The Chinese Communist Party is doing exactly the same thing, in spades, rewriting or glossing over history to prove the legitimacy of its rule.
Given all this, how can you expect Hongkongers to be wholeheartedly convinced?
Certainly, amid the dominant skepticism, some locals may still buy Beijing’s carefully polished version of Chinese history.
Then the only outcome of such mainland exchange and learning programs is that Hong Kong’s public opinion will become further polarized.
Perhaps, remarks from people like Law and Henry Cheng Kar-shun arise from well-intentioned patriotism.
But effective communication and understanding can only be forged with sincerity and reliable materials.
As long as Hong Kong remains a free world city, any attempt at ideological remolding is bound to be of no avail.
Patriotism should be something Hongkongers can identify with, but not when the party becomes the country and the boundary between the government and the party is blurred.
When there are other more pressing issues on both sides of the border, the time is just not ripe for these mainland exchange and learning programs.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 18. [Chinese version 中文版]
Translation by Frank Chen
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