Illiberal studies

A survey of 791 liberal studies teachers from 255 schools last year saw more than a third backing police use of torture to get confessions….. (Today’s Standard)

The word ‘liberal’ here refers of course to the new part of Hong Kong’s high school curriculum in which students learn humanities through research and discussion rather than the usual mindless absorption of facts by rote. The idea is that the kids will gain such useful skills as how to ‘distinguish fact from opinion’, which the existing exam-focused system apparently fails to impart. In other words, it is not about training students to be trendy tree-hugging, pro-choice, organic, tax-loving, arty, semi-socialist drivers of Volvos – nor about actual Liberalism. In theory, there is no reason why a Hong Kong high school liberal studies teacher should not personally hold highly conservative views.

Even so, it is an eye-grabbing statistic, assuming we can trust the data produced by the HK Institute of Education survey (you have to wonder how leading the questions were). According to the research, 57.7% of the educators disagreed that children have the right to religion, 55.7% disagreed that they have the right to be free from corporal punishment from their parents, 74.3% said that schools should have the right to force students under 18 to take drug tests with parents’ consent, and 64.3% thought that the government should have the right to force schools to hand over drug test results to the cops.

Many Hong Kong teachers seem to have an authoritarian streak – perhaps it comes with the rigorous and disciplined local educational ethos the liberal studies course is supposed to weaken. The Society for Truth and Light, which reports obscene articles to the media watchdogs and clamours against official recognition of gay partnerships, and similar groups anguishing about youth and morals seem to be packed full of fundamentalist Christian teachers.

There is obviously an overlap here with what, being in an evocative mood, we might call the broader Evangelical conspiracy to infiltrate Hong Kong’s corridors of power. Someone in the Education Bureau in recent years has awarded the Truth and Light group a contract to train teachers in, of all things, human rights, and someone else more or less tried at one point to sneak creationism into the public school biology syllabus. Several government ministers, including Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Stephen Lam and Security Secretary Ambrose Lee, are hardcore Bible-bashers, as are property tycoons Thomas Kwok and Ronnie Chan. This leads to another overlap – namely with the pro-Beijing camp. This is a brand of religion the Communist Party can live with, apparently. The Big Lychee’s ‘Taliban’ as local liberal wits call them, are, after all, in a struggle against what they see as Western values.

If some teachers are bigoted ultra-conservatives, what about the police? With the aforementioned Ambrose ultimately in charge of them, we should not be surprised to see the boys in blue becoming more openly intolerant these days. Perhaps they don’t always have a choice; if the Society for Truth and Light makes an official complaint about a picture of a nipple in an art gallery, some poor constable has to go round and check. But the recent crackdown on lesbian dancing, as Reggie Ho’s letter in today’s South China Morning Post hints, looks like a deliberate policy shift ordered by some senior officer on a mission from God to save us from sodomites and other tools of Lucifer.

And so on to another obvious overlap, namely the increasing intolerance of the Hong Kong Police for political protestors. We all understand, or at least should understand, that the authorities here are under pressure from Beijing to monitor dissent and not be seen to contradict mainland policies against threats to the one-party state. Hence the awkwardness when Falun Gong followers and Tiananmen student leaders get turned away at the airport, and the relatively heavy-handed tactics against demonstrators outside Beijing’s local Liaison Office. But silly stunts like making people walk for miles to get into the June 4 vigil in Victoria Park seem gratuitously provocative, as if someone up there at the top desperately wants to goad impatient activists into lashing out and braining some young cop with a brick.

There clearly is an illiberal agenda, though I wouldn’t completely fancy its chances in an increasingly aware and freedom-loving place. The intriguing question is: is Beijing the mask for the Bible, or the Bible the mask for Beijing?


Click to hear ‘Love Me I’m a Liberal’ by Phil Ochs!

This entry was posted in Blog. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Illiberal studies

  1. Darovia says:

    I see that the Society for Truth, etc has no ‘English’ button. Perhaps they belive that gweilos don’t deserve to lead good and wholesome lives. Or perhasp they think we’re smart enough not to fall for the whole talking snakes deal. They do us no favours; some of us do believe that a guy created a nine trillion megaton nuclear planet without the aid of thermal gloves or goggles.

  2. Probably says:

    If Stephen Lame is a Christian how does he reconcile “Though shalt not bear false witness” with his 9-5 job?

  3. Maugrim says:

    I find it unusual that in HK many job applicants place, at the top of their CV’s, above their academic qualifications, their choice of religion. Some even go to the trouble of naming the individual church and/or Pastor concerned, as if by doing so is some sort of ‘secret handshake/wink”.

  4. Pooky says:

    Keep up Hemlock, the liberal studies story was in SCMP yesterday!

  5. Mary Hinge says:

    Come off it, Reggie Ho. A good old fashioned seeing-to with a truncheon. Oh yes. That’s what they need. Most of ’em would secretly enjoy it, too. And the rest would enjoy it overtly.

  6. FB3 says:


    Who reads the SCMP these days?

  7. Walter De Havilland says:

    I read the SCMP to catch up on what was the internet two days ago.

  8. Stephen says:

    The black hair dye brigade in Beijing have no problem with “hard core bible bashers” as long as they also believe the the divine right of the CCP to rule China for eternity. Those in the article do.

  9. Jason90 says:

    I’d like to be watching at the pearly gates when Ronnie Chan tries the camel-through-the-eye-of-a-needle test….
    It’d almost be worth being Christian to witness that.

  10. Jack Shit says:

    Love ‘the camel through the eye of a needle’ comment. A HK zombie nation in the making?

Comments are closed.