24 October 2018
Hong Kong has proposed a new curriculum to enhance the teaching of contemporary Chinese history. But many teachers and schools have voiced concern as they see political motives behind the plan. Photo: Ta Kung Po
Hong Kong has proposed a new curriculum to enhance the teaching of contemporary Chinese history. But many teachers and schools have voiced concern as they see political motives behind the plan. Photo: Ta Kung Po

Teachers push back on Chinese history curriculum

It is no secret that Beijing and Hong Kong authorities have been trying to use the education system to promote Chinese nationalism among Hong Kong youth and make the students more “patriotic”.

But the task is not proving easy as people are pushing back the attempts to shape young people’s minds through a sanitized version of modern China.

In the latest setback to the administration, teaching professionals have made it clear that they will resist a proposal to revise the curriculum to enhance the teaching of contemporary Chinese history.

In a survey conducted by the Education Bureau, only 37 percent of secondary schools agreed to a revision in the curriculum, while 50 percent said they oppose the change. 

Of the schools that agreed to a change, only 11 percent said they can teach the new curriculum from September. The others said they need more time.

The feedback came after the Education Bureau sent questionnaires to 341 local secondary schools, seeking their views on the plan to revise the curriculum.

Following the latest survey and an earlier one conducted by the Professional Teachers’ Union — which showed even greater opposition to the government’s plan — a committee overseeing the curriculum had no choice but to conclude that opinions are divided among schools on the issue of teaching more contemporary Chinese history.

The committee suggested that the government should let schools decide for themselves whether they want to adopt the new curriculum or not.

The latest announcement by the Education Bureau suggests that the government has realized that it has perhaps pushed the proposal on contemporary Chinese history too quickly.

Critics have alleged that the new curriculum was aimed at brainwashing students about the “glorious history” of modern China under the Communist Party since it took power in 1949.

Many teachers as well as parents are opposed to history classes being used as a tool to further Beijing’s political objectives.

Following last year’s pro-democracy protests, which were spearheaded by young people, schools have become a key battlefield in Beijing’s political fight in Hong Kong.

Authorities want to instill a sense of patriotism among local youth and dispel anti-mainland feelings. Offering a one-sided version of modern Chinese history is part of the game plan. 

Teachers have been expressing concern that Chinese history could become a “political tool” to influence pupils’ minds.

However, Beijing-loyalists argue that youngsters in the city should have better understanding of the motherland.

Apart from the bid to bring contemporary Chinese history into Hong Kong schools, authorities have also been keen on implementing “national education” in primary and secondary schools.

The national education plan drew widespread opposition, forcing the government to withdraw the plan.

Last month, Michael Suen, who had served as education bureau chief under the Donald Tsang administration, said national education can be introduced in other ways and that it is unnecessary to push it as a separate teaching subject.

After failing to push national education, the government is seeking to use contemporary Chinese history classes to influence the minds of students, critics say. 

Under the proposal, a new curriculum will focus on the contemporary history of China, replacing the existing one which focuses more on the ancient Chinese history.

That could the serve the same purpose as national education in a subtle way, without drawing too much criticism, authorities had hoped.

But reactions from schools have shown that teachers are wary about the government’s intentions and suspected political interference.

According to teaching materials that have come to light, national education would have focused on how the Communist Party steered China into becoming a world power, and dwell on national achievements in fields such as sports and space and scientific research.

If new Chinese history text books are on the lines of the planned national education, students would never get to learn about the dark side of China under Communist Party rule.

History will be sanitized, with topics such as the Cultural Revolution, the suppression of dissidents and the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Massacre all swept under the carpet.

Given these concerns, it is not surprising that the teaching community is pushing back against a curriculum revision to incorporate “patriotic” contemporary Chinese history.

The teachers deserve applause for their courage in standing up to the administration.

They have shown that their duty is to safeguard the interests of students, rather than those of the government.

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EJ Insight writer

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