20 April 2019
A file picture shows students taking the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education examination. Credit:
A file picture shows students taking the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education examination. Credit:

If you think history subject is boring, think again

For years the history subject has remained a byword for boredom among local students. However, last Thursday as secondary 6 students across the city sat for the HKDSE (Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education) history exam, it seemed that studying history could actually be a lot of fun.

Just look at some of the surprisingly inspiring or even provocative questions in the exam paper, and you can tell that those who came up with the questions have indeed turned conventional wisdom about the history subject on its head.

For example, one question cites a speech delivered by Mao Zedong in 1945, in which he called upon the Kuomintang regime to adopt democracy and put an end to its one-party dictatorship, and asks students to comment on whether the Chinese Communist Party has deviated from Mao’s “guiding principles” on democracy ever since it took power in 1949.

Another question cites a local poll conducted back in 1982, which indicated that 70 percent of the respondents were for Hong Kong staying under British colonial rule, and that only 4 percent favored return of the city’s sovereignty to China.

The question then goes on to ask students to infer and assess the kind of apprehension and anxiety prevailing among the people of Hong Kong in those days about the 1997 handover.

Those who sat for the DSE history exam last week were predominantly millennials who were born around 2000, when Hong Kong was no longer a British colony. It was intriguing that these young people were asked to ponder over the future of our city just as their parents did back in the 80s and 90s.

In the recent Chief Executive election, John Tsang Chun-wah struck a deep chord among his supporters when he said the reason why he was running for the top post was because he didn’t want to again see the people in the city think about emigrating to other countries.

According to a recent survey conducted by a local bank, 15 percent of those with a net worth over HK$10 million said they were planning to leave the city and seek a better life elsewhere over the next five years.

In fact voting with their feet has been the only means Hongkongers can resort to in order to change their fate, as they have never had a say in the city’s future, not during the Sino-British talks in the 80s, and certainly not now either.

What has changed most over the past 20 years is not Hong Kong itself, but the mainland. Back in 1997, Hong Kong accounted for 20 percent of the GDP of China, today the figure has dropped to less than 3 percent.

While many in this city remain ambivalent about China’s rapid economic growth, a lot of people are still trying to figure out what role Hong Kong can play in the course of China’s rise to global predominance.

If anything, the inspiring questions set out in the DSE exam paper may probably lead to a period of introspection among our citizens over the future of our city.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 21

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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A columnist at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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