At a personal level, I can easily imagine Joyce Lau being a friend, and perhaps that may end up being one day. As some of you know, she reads this blog. Her latest article in the New York Times about the recent curriculum protest in Hong Kong over “patriotic” education is tantamount to pushing a British propaganda line. It’s misguided. Her article said nothing about the curriculum itself. It sheds no perspective from the Chinese side. Incidentally, before her article’s publication, reader perspectivehere had left a comment on this very topic. Through law, the British had already brainwashed Hong Kong citizens long time ago to propagate a friendly narrative towards British colonial rule. Apparently, for some (not all, but the 32k some where the brainwashing succeeded), wearing dirty British laundry has become a desirable fashion worthwhile taking to the streets for. And, sure enough, the expat ‘China’ bloggers will say what the NYT want their readers to think: “ominous, vile and dictatorial.” Another variation of that garbage can be found here, all without examining what’s in this education. Let’s see what perspectivehere had to say.
perspectivehere July 29th, 2012 at 12:08
Recently there have been news reports of Hong Kongers who are opposed to the introduction of “national education” in the Hong Kong school system. The media reports that some Hong Kongers fear that national education means “brainwashing”.
See for example, Thousands in Hong Kong education protest.
“Thousands of Hong Kong parents and their children marched on Sunday against a plan to introduce Chinese national education at local schools, in a show of resistance to official attempts to shape the identity of the former British colony.
Eddie Ng, secretary for education, said on Saturday that Hong Kong would introduce the curriculum aimed at fostering a sense of national identity starting in September and make it compulsory within three years.
“We will do our best to provide a diversified range of teaching materials reflecting multiple points of view,” said Mr Ng, refuting fears national education would amount to brainwashing students about Communist China’s history. “‘Brainwashing’ is against Hong Kong’s core values and that’s something unacceptable to us,” he said.
The government has stressed that the curriculum is intended to bolster students’ knowledge of Chinese current affairs, history and culture.”
“Organisers handed out water along the route to combat the heat, and spirits were high, with demonstrators shouting slogans such as: “We want independent education back! We want critical thinking!” and singing nursery rhymes like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” with anti-national education lyrics.
Eva Chan, one of the organisers, said teaching guides for national education contained a pro-Beijing bias that was “terrifying”.”
Given these protests against national education, it is worthwhile to consider what education about China is like in Hong Kong as a result of British colonial rule. For this description, I cite this excellent 2004 essay: “When East Meets West: Nation, Colony, and Hong Kong Women’s Subjectivities in Gender and China Development” by Yuk-Lin Renita Wong.
“The discourse of East meeting West has become so taken for granted in descriptions of Hong Kong that it serves to conceal the historical processes of British colonialism in forming the identity of the place….
The East meets West discourse resonates strongly with British colonial education policy, which from the 1950s on was designed to construct Hong Kongers as modern Chinese. Having seized Hong Kong in 1841 because of its strategic geographical location – from it, British merchants could trade with China without the restrictions on mobility they experienced in Canton – the British colonial government for decades crafted an education policy intended to produce a bilingual, bicultural elite who could function as middlemen between the British traders in Hong Kong and the merchants and officials of China (Luk, 1991; Ng-Lun, 1984).
When, in 1949, the Chinese Communist Party came to power in China, the colonial government immediately shifted the focus of its education policy to resist communist influence and contain nationalistic fervor in Hong Kong. The Education Ordinance was amended to enable the director of education to block or revoke the registration of any teacher. Worried that this legislation might draw international disapproval, the secretary of state for the colonies considered it important to emphasize that “these measures are being introduced for the defense of democracy and not as an attack on it” (Sweeting,1993:200).
Legislative restriction on the political freedom of the colonized was thus framed as defense of democracy. This discourse remained pervasive through the 1990s, making it possible for the colonial government to represent similar repressive measures, such as the Public Order Ordinance, as safeguarding the freedom of the colonized from communist infiltration. In 1953, the Committee on Chinese Studies submitted a report strongly favoring a “culturalistic emphasis on Chinese studies to counteract the nationalistic and revolutionary fervor in the Chinese cultural textbooks from Mainland China” (Luk, 1991:65).
The Chinese curriculum in the colony was developed to bridge East and West: “In Hong Kong, the meeting place and melting pot of Eastern and Western cultures, Chinese Studies should contribute towards the interpretation of China to the West and the West to China” (Report of the Chinese Studies Committee, 1953, qtd. in Sweeting, 1993:214). In particular, the report sought to cultivate “modern Chinese, conscious of their own culture and at the same time having a liberal, balanced and international outlook” (Report of the Chinese Studies Committee, 1953, qtd. in Luk, 1991:665).
Under this colonial education policy, Hong Kong students were taught simultaneously to identify with the glory of Chinese civilization in the remote past and to develop a modern form of Chineseness that was intended to distance them from the neighboring society under communist rule (Luk, 1991). The approach fixed Chineseness in its tradition, while celebrating Westernness for its modernity. These historical conditions of the East meets West discourse significantly influenced the subject formation of Hong Kongers in general and of individual Hong Kong women in particular.
In a critical anthropological account of this discourse in contemporary Hong Kong, Grant Evans and Maria Tam (1997) examine the configuration of ideas around this popular ideology. On one hand, Westernness is mainly associated with liberalism, freedom, rationality, egalitarianism, affluence, disrespect for authority, family breakdown, and immorality; on the other hand, Easternness/Chineseness is linked to familism, respect for elders, conservatism, authoritarianism, social order, and hard work. Evans and Tam suggest that this ideological discourse appeals to both local Hong Kongers and Westerners. When Hong Kong Chinese encounter Mainlanders, their differences can be explained by their Westernness; when they encounter Westerners, their differences can be explained by their Chineseness. Westerners, conversely, identify the modernity of Hong Kong with a familiar Westernness; any differences can then be accounted for by Hong Kongers’ Chineseness.”
We can see from this description that the “Chinese Studies” component of the British colonial educational system in Hong Kong was designed to create an intellectual and ideological barrier between Hong Kongers and communist China. This form of “brainwashing” was perhaps subtle, but seemingly effective.
It is worthwhile for Hong Kongers to have an open discussion about the content of national education; but it seems the demonstrators are protesting based upon unquestioned assumptions that Hong Kong education currently provides an “objective” perspective on China.
This shows a lack of critical thinking on the protestors’ part towards the education they themselves have received about China from British colonial rule – precisely what they are blaming on national education.
The ironies abound.
I think people in Hong Kong should put things in perspective and be thankful that it is only national education from China being introduced.
In the U.S., American schoolchildren have to learn from textbooks approved by ultra-conservative Texas school boards.. Now that’s not brain washing; it’s brain muddying.
Look, Hong Kong is a part of China. China will not accept that part of China being a bastion for pro-British colonial master narratives.
[Update August 9, 2012]
Interesting exchange below between reader ‘citizen’ and Ray, where Ray explains why survey results in the Western press about Hong Kong citizen’s views towards the Mainland are in fact inaccurate. A better gauge is a set of results measuring what he believes are the silent majority:
August 9th, 2012 at 09:43
Like I have already said, the survey is a trick question. Take a look at the actual chart. Does it really make any sense to anybody? What is the purpose of this survey? Asking whether one is Hong Kong citizen, Chinese HK citizen, HK Chinese citizen, Chinese citizen?
Imagine a survey in the US asking whether one is a New Yorker, New Yorker American, New Yorker US citizen, American New Yorker?
Here is a survey on the PLA garrison in HK, the approval rating is around 37% in 1997 to 50% in 2012. The disapproval rating has gone from 10% in 1997 to 5% in 2012. (Peak of 70% in 2004, 68% in 2008, which I believe is seeing them on TV doing rescue and humanitarian work). In my opinion, this is more a barometer of trust than anything else.
This what I based most of my argument on, which is the support of pro-mainland parties which has the highest rating, compare that to 1997 when the DP has the highest.
But I am realistic enough to say that the support would change during election depending on the candidates and local issues. But the days of DP having the absolute majority support of 63% is over. In fact, it is this uncertainty that actually hurt the economical and social development of HK from 1997-2012. My comparison is to Macau from 1999 to 2012 whose GDP almost tripled while HK stagnant. Of course, Taiwan did pretty badly on those account from 2000 to 2008.
And your reminder of the 6.4 incident actually proved my point. The people who go to those rally or vigilant are not interested in the truth.
When you talked about the trust being at the lowest, do you factor in the role the press play? However, IMO the biggest factor is still the economy and the sense of HKers feeling dejected. Since 2008 the housing price has doubled while pay has stay the same. The same is actually true even in Vancouver, Toronto, Singapore.
This is probably the survey you based your opinion on. “On the whole, do you trust the Beijing Central Government?”. It is not black as white as you say when it dropped on 2012 compare to 1997. The survey question is very loose. As you can tell the trust is actually highest around 2007 to 2009 where 55% trust or very trust the central government. This period coincide with the start of economic boom in HK. So the opinion is not always the same.
The following survey is done as a 15th anniversary of the return of HK, “Do you think Hong Kong has become better or worse since 1997?” because it contained results such as so much better (4.9%), slightly better (12.6%), no change (15.6%), slightly worse (24.4%), so much worse (38.9%), don’t know (3.6%). I personally think it is not conclusive enough because HK’s economy is now overheated again.
It is most telling rather in this question “Do you think the gap between the rich and poor in Hong Kong has widened, narrowed or more or less the same in the past 15 years?”. A whopping 73.1 % said “yes”.
So like people in Europe and US, most HKers discontent is more focus on perceived economic inequality and always blame the government when that happened.
Here’s another HK specialty, this survey asked the opinion on various government. I will highlight the negative. So as one can tell, the average HK person doesn’t necessary think badly of the central government and still think it in better light than say US, Japanese and Filipino gov.
HK SAR Gov (36% negative)
Mainland Gov (32% negative)
US Gov (37% negative)
Japanese Gov (41%)
Filipino Gov (83% negative)
For me if I want to use survey to get a perception of reality on the ground, to use a single one would not give you a clear picture. To be honest, I don’t think most HK people are brainwashed by any side but I must say that 90% of the free press there took an easy swipe against the central government and mainlanders as a convenient scapegoat. This lack of objectivity is what is hurting the social, economical and political development of HK.