Beijing and the Hong Kong government are keen on turning the next generation of Hongkongers into patriots or loyalists of the Communist Party.
But is it really necessary to teach schoolchildren these notions at a very early age?
In a guide to the pre-primary curriculum posted on the website of the Education Bureau, a statement on kindergarten patriotic education explains that its objective is to “develop national identity through an understanding of Chinese culture”.
It’s fine for the government to set such rules to teach the next generation Chinese culture, given the fact that Hong Kong is part of China. But the timing is off.
In fact, some local kindergartens were teaching “I love China” topics during the national day holiday in October. The textbook used in class, which was published by Educational Publishing House Ltd., puts the relationship between Hong Kong and China as that between a grandson and a grandfather.
The story is about a Hong Kong schoolboy visiting his grandfather in Beijing. At each opportunity, the book does not fail to mention that Hong Kong is part of China. The boy and his grandfather visit Tiananmen Square, the National Palace Museum, the Great Wall as well as some other well-known places in Beijing.
The book includes a small column praising China’s achievements in space with an introduction by Yang Liwei, China’s first spaceman. The book also includes a map of Beijing showing the locations of different tourist spots.
While some parents may think that such lessons may not have an impact on their children, the fact is that children ask their parents why Hong Kong and Beijing are under China. The lessons may also trigger children’s interest to visit Beijing to experience what they have learned from the book.
Moreover, their impression may be deepened once they visit the capital. And with the help of additional assignments, children are now learning about China more than Hong Kong at an early age.
There is nothing wrong with Hong Kong children learning about Chinese culture. What’s surprising to parents is that they’re learning to write Chinese characters before they learn to write Cantonese.
Given that Chinese characters are more complicated than Cantonese, why don’t the schools teach the latter first?
National education, or so-called patriotic education, has been quietly introduced in Hong Kong without a single curriculum but the elements have penetrated different subjects.
The government has learned from its failure five years ago when hundreds of thousands of parents and students took to the streets to oppose the launch of national education in primary and secondary schools.
Now Beijing officials are hoping that Hong Kong will finally push through with national education as intended.
China’s minister of education, Chen Baosheng, on Monday said Hong Kong needs to relaunch national education and that Beijing will help in any way it can.
Chen told RTHK that patriotic education must be strengthened in Hong Kong as a counter to those who advocate independence. He also hit back at those who criticize patriotic education as brainwashing.
“There’s no brainwashing. I don’t understand what they are worried about. I don’t understand where their worries come from. Who’s brainwashing them? It’s the Basic Law, ‘one country, two systems’, China’s development and its history, and recognition of national identity — that’s all. How can you call this brainwashing?” he said.
From Beijing’s perspective, the only way to suppress the rising independence advocacy is to strengthen patriotic education, as well as to change the Hong Kong political environment.
Central authorities believe that the more students learn about the nation, the more they would be proud to be Chinese. Does it mean that young people would be immune to any separatist or pro-independence mindset? The answer is no.
The fact is that young people have their own judgment regarding what’s good and what’s bad about China. They know that the authoritarian rule in China has led to many activists being jailed or killed. They know China does not have freedom of information or freedom of expression. They know China is a place without democracy.
Patriotic education starting from kindergarten may lead children to love their country at an early stage until they start to understand it by themselves.
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