Maybe the Germans have a word for it: a disproportionate and indeed irrational sense of injustice provoked by the sight of another person fortunate enough to enjoy benefits you do not have and which do not come at your expense in any way. Children tend to suffer from it, until they learn to rejoice at other people’s good luck (or at least pretend to). There is a particular type of Hongkonger who seems rather prone to it as well, seething with outrage, for example, over having paid full price one day when a neighbour enjoys a discount the next. It is closely related to Kiasu, from the Hokkien ‘afraid to lose’, in which Singaporeans take such a perverse pride.
A ceaselessly entertaining example of the type is the anti-English Schools Foundation letter-writer to the South China Morning Post. The paper prints their diatribes – almost weekly – because it knows it is stirring up a hornet’s nest; the letters are an implicit threat to a large portion of Hong Kong’s Western parents to force them to pay higher school fees. What is more intriguing, however, is the psychology of the letter-writers.
Today’s is from one Cynthia Sze of Quarry Bay. Two things stand out: first her reasoning, which has a simple and in fact rather sad explanation; second her implicit appraisal of the value of ESF-style schooling.
We can only guess, but it seems more than likely that Ms Sze attempted to get a child into an ESF institution. The schools, originally intended for colonial-era English-speaking kids, offer a relaxed international education, and a route to prestigious colleges and careers, subsidized by the government. Places are highly desired among Chinese-speaking families with cosmopolitan aspirations. When Sze junior failed to win a place, it seems, the mother turned into an extreme enemy of the ESF: if her child couldn’t get a place, no-one else from a Chinese-speaking family should be allowed to either, and the non-Chinese families who remain should pay full fees.
Oh and, she adds, an ESF-style education is worthless and abhorrent to Hong Kong.
In all its mouth-frothing glory…
She calls the native Anglophone students ‘non-residents’. Of course, they do reside, and were in many cases born in, Hong Kong. She presumably means that they are of European or South Asian ethnicity, and the idea is to goad white- and brown-skinned taxpayers into vitriolic responses.
The key thing is that her high degree of loathing for the ESF is very obviously in proportion to her one-time desperation to get the presumed Sze kid an ESF place. She, and many other Chinese families, lost out while others no different from them got their prince or princess into an ESF school. It is arbitrary, thus unfair, and the resulting bitterness “undermine[s] the city’s moral fabric” and could cause rioting when more people understand. It is classic, unforgiving, vengeance-seeking blackballed-from-club syndrome, with obvious racial overtones (how many nationalist revolutionaries were radicalized when the foreign elite they hungered to join rejected them?)
She refers to the ESF’s reputation with scorn and dismisses the product of the “outlandish institution” as “an ‘international’ curriculum with virtually no local content.” Which leads us to a question not just for her but for the Hong Kong government: why should so many people be so keen to give their child that?
What’s rather odd about this nutter is to work out exactly what she wants.
Does she want the majority of students at ESF schools to be local, cantonese, or does she want the whole edifice torn down regardless of who attends?
If the former, then OK she may have a point and its worth looking at the admissions system. But which local, Chinese parent in their right mind wants their child educated in “local’ languages when (a) the rest of the world uses English as the linga franca, and (b) across the border they don’t speak Cantonese as a first language but Mandarin.
If she wants it torn down, that sounds like sour grapes. The obvious answer is keep the subvention but start subventing local schools to the same level, and (if and when) they don’t reach an equivalent standard, ask her what to do next.
Reply to Cynthia Sze in today’s SCMP …
ESF schools contribute to international character of city
Contrary to Cynthia Sze’s view (“Hong Kong should not pay ESF to maintain its luxurious schools”, August 30), I advocate an increase in government subvention to the English Schools Foundation in order to ensure that there are enough affordable places for local and expatriate children.
The ESF offers an international education at fees lower than the norm for international schools because of the government subvention, without which fewer kids could afford to attend these schools and the ESF would be a smaller organisation.
As the parent of a child who attended ESF schools for 11 years, I appreciate the quality of its education and how it contributes to the internationalisation of Hong Kong.
The presence of expatriate children (whom Ms Sze incorrectly described as “non-residents”) gives these schools an international flavour and should be welcomed rather than discouraged.
Their parents are Hong Kong taxpayers too and Ms Sze should not be too upset that they are enjoying the “privilege” of the subsidy.
If they were to attend local schools, which they are entitled to just like the minorities that Ms Sze has so much sympathy for, the subsidy per child would be higher.
The children at ESF schools have a native command of English. Not many children in even the best local English schools can boast the same.
The ESF’s contribution to Hong Kong should be extolled rather than bulldozed.
Instead of curtailing its services, ESF should be encouraged to expand its reach. Neither is the subvention outdated, nor the “privilege” anachronistic as alleged by Ms Sze. It is essential to ensure that this time-honoured alternative education is accessible to more local and expatriate children.
Ms Sze’s letter smacks of sour grapes and strikes me as inward-looking and narrow-minded.
I have disclosed my association with the ESF and would like to know whether Ms Sze has an axe to grind with it since she takes so much exception to the alleged policy of Cantonese (only?) speaking kids getting a lower priority for admission.
Jonathan Leung, North Point
Totally agree with Ms Sze. What other country in the world would discriminate in this way. Absolutely shocking.
is there any difference between this sort of “discrimination” as you would put it, which is based on whether the children chosen would be able to participate in and benefit from an English taught curriculum, and the sort of discrimination that allows religious schools to choose their pupils on the basis of their parents professed religious beliefs? Lots of countries discriminate in that way, and fund religious schools to boot.