17 July 2019
The Basic Law is a document that should be taught by qualified legal experts, rather than by school teachers who have no professional legal training. Photos: HKEJ, Wikipedia
The Basic Law is a document that should be taught by qualified legal experts, rather than by school teachers who have no professional legal training. Photos: HKEJ, Wikipedia

Why Beijing wants the Basic Law to be taught in schools

On Sunday more than 110,000 people attended the annual vigil at Victoria Park to remember the victims of the bloody crackdown on the student-led democracy movement in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

They were still demanding an apology from central authorities for the June 4 massacre, 28 years after the incident took place.

Many of those who joined the vigil were middle-aged men and women, though many youngsters also light up candles at the park to commemorate the event.

Obviously these young people want to understand the history of China, particularly the part since the Communist Party won and took the reins of government.

They feel that they need to look back to the past in order to comprehend the present, especially Beijing’s efforts to tighten its grip on Hong Kong.

They want to learn more from the past to sharpen their critical and independent thinking.

The central authorities, however, are aiming to promote patriotism among the youth, to make them loyal to Beijing, and this leaves no room for independent and critical thinking.

In fact, Beijing, through Hong Kong’s education bureau, has unveiled a new curriculum for secondary schools that will incorporate the teaching of the Basic Law.

According to the revised Secondary Education Curriculum Guide, students from form one to form three will take 51 hours of Basic Law-related courses over a three-year period, in Chinese History, Life and Society, History and Geography.

Schools that do not offer Life and Society courses will have to adopt an independent 15-hour module on the Constitution and the Basic Law.

What is probably most revealing is that the announcement of the new curriculum was made by Hong Kong’s education chief while visiting Beijing.

Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim said the new requirements will help young people better understand the “One Country, Two Systems” principle.

It’s clear to many people that the new curriculum was an edict from Beijing. It’s a new version of the patriotic education that they wanted to implement in Hong Kong schools and drew massive opposition from parents five years ago.

In fact, it seems strange that local secondary school students will have to start learning the details of the Basic Law now. It has been in place for 20 years since China regained its sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997.   

Students need to know that Hong Kong is a special administrative region under People’s Republic of China under the “one country, two systems” policy. They need to know the SAR flag, the structure of government, and things like that.

However, there is no need for them to learn all the provisions of the document. The Basic Law is a constitutional document that should be taught by qualified legal experts, rather than by school teachers who have no professional legal training.

A teaching material prepared for the course likens the relationship between Beijing and the SAR to that of a school principal and his/her teachers. The principal has the right to pick the correct people to serve as teachers, to appraise their performance, and to authorize them to perform certain duties.

Such an analogy is defective in the same way that from Beijing’s perspective, the nation is the “mother” while the SAR is the “child”.

From the legal perspective, while Hong Kong is under Chinese rule, it is a city that follows the capitalist path and enjoys certain freedoms that are part of its unique character.

Hong Kong’s leader is “elected” by a small group of people who are supposed to represent the seven million citizens who comprise the SAR, but not directly appointed by China’s top leaders.

If the curriculum is to teach our young people that all decisions related to Hong Kong are made by Beijing based on the Basic Law, then what’s the point of calling the policy “one country, two systems”?

By making the teaching of the Basic Law a part of the curriculum, the central authorities are given a means to indoctrinate our youth on the supremacy of the Communist Party, and what the central government and the SAR government are doing for Hong Kong.

They can use Article 26 of the Basic Law to tell our youngsters that only people who are loyal to China, the SAR government and the Basic Law are qualified to run for public office; otherwise the government reserves the right to disqualify them.

They can teach the Basic Law to highlight the importance of obedience to Hong Kong and Chinese laws and regulations, and warn that despite guarantees to our freedom of expression, people who talk negatively about Beijing may be violating the principles of the document.

Our education secretary himself has indicated that Hong Kong independence cannot be discussed in the classroom given its illegality.

In short, the whole design of the curriculum is to let Hong Kong students know the bottom line of the Basic Law – from Beijing’s perspective.

The only result of such sort of education is the spread of white terror among the youth. They would be made to see the wisdom of knowing when to shut their mouth, especially when it comes to political issues that seem to challenge Beijing.

The government’s decision to push for Basic Law education has yet to stir discussion among youth groups and parents. But it’s time for our parents and students to voice out their concern about this plan.

Students are not tools to be used by the authorities to serve their political ends.

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EJ Insight writer

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