Published on Demotix on September 4, 2012.
“Being critical with China is my way of loving China. Being patriotic doesn’t mean to love the party”. 25 year-old Ronald Yick expresses his unease over the plans of Hong Kong Government to introduce Moral and National Education classes into primary and secondary public school curriculum. “I’m afraid of the evaluation system: will teachers grade students according to their loyalty to China? On how explicitly they support their country? That’s dangerous”.
Like Yick, many Hong Kong students, teachers, parents and other concerned people have taken to the streets in the past weeks to protest against what they see as “brainwashing education” prompted by Beijing. The teaching material for the course, the government-funded handbook The China Model, has caused public outrage, as it portrays China political regime as “progressive, selfless and united”. 23 year-old demonstrator Cheng Lok-Chit explains: “Many people see CY Leung [Hong Kong Chief Executive] as a puppet of Beijing. Actually, rumors say this is one of the four missions he received from Beijing. The other three would be passing the anti-subversion law, gaining control over government-owned broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) and conducting a “fake” political reform [universal suffrage with candidates approved by Beijing]”.
Thousands of people marched on the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday July 29, after Education Secretary Eddie Ng Hak-kim had stated that demonstrations would not stop the process.
On Monday September 3, secondary school students association Scholarism, that is leading the protests along with the National Education Parents Concern Group and the Professional Teachers’ Union, decided to “occupy” the Government headquarters. Since then, the crowds have been flooding the surrounding streets in support of the secondary school students. Some protesters (10 at the time of writing) have even started a hunger strike; others are shaving their heads to show their concern.
For the time being, the government has announced they will go on with the implementation plan, though they will not clear protesters. With elections to the Legislative Council scheduled for next Sunday, September 9, few expect any moves before next week. Actually, the elections could turn into a pseudo-referendum on national education, and that would benefit democrats’ results.
Since its handover to China in 1997, Hong Kong people have been struggling to preserve the “one country, two systems” agreement that let them keep political rights prohibited in mainland China. The global financial crisis and the rise of China’s economy have led Hong Kong to depend more and more on Beijing, that in turn has been increasing, though disguising, its influence on the island’s politics, media and business issues.
If Leung accomplishes the four missions allegedly requested to him by Beijing, Hong Kong people’s basic civil rights will be seriously damaged and Beijing control would become much more evident. The introduction of patriotic education into schools could be the first step towards a serious loss of freedom.
However, Leung may encounter strong resistance. Back in 2003, a massive rally led to a failed attempt to pass an anti-subversion law aiming to “prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People’s Government”, setting a precedent difficult to forget.