Article 23 revisited

“The reaction does not need to be so strong…” You can almost sympathize with Executive Council member and National People’s Congress deputy Fanny Law’s frustration. Not for the first time in Hong Kong, unremarkable-looking people you’ve never heard of appear from nowhere and derail a painfully (if not painstakingly) crafted government plan.

For the sake of appearances, with Beijing and local patriots in mind, the Hong Kong government decided several years ago that it had to introduce a new ‘national education’ school curriculum to teach the city’s children about their country. In theory, it needn’t have been a big deal. In practice, however, it is inevitably a sensitive issue in a city inhabited by refugees from communist rule. It needed to be handled properly. Instead, over several years up to now, just weeks from Legislative Council elections, officials goofed up.

The comparisons with the Article 23 security legislation introduced in 2002-03 are obvious. You have to wonder why the powers that be did not learn from that and anticipate the possibility that something that didn’t have to be a major problem could turn into one. If Education Secretary Eddie Ng has any sense he will at least anticipate what happens next and make a serious gesture (like withdrawal of the plan) while he can still appear to be in charge and making a free choice. Blame it on the widely discredited Donald Tsang administration.

What went wrong?

Pro-Beijing types claim that the previous colonial regime deprived school students of national consciousness as a matter of policy. They would certainly be correct in saying that kids should learn about the country they live in and of which they are citizens. It would not have been difficult to go for a calm and minimalist approach and expand the existing civics and history courses to include names of national leaders and provincial capitals with all the other facts stuffed into 6-16-year-olds’ minds. But no, that wasn’t good enough. Officials had to devise a big, separate subject.

Simply from an educational standpoint, it looks clumsy, with plenty of potential overlap with civics and Chinese history. What’s worse is the charge of brainwashing. The syllabus does not require any such thing, but it does not make it impossible for teachers to introduce political bias if they want. Since pro-Beijing schools at least will want to, a leftist group produced a suitable China Model textbook, with its glowing descriptions of communist rule and its dismissal of multiparty democracy. The irony is worth every penny of their public subsidy: the pro-Beijing National Education Centre has delivered the critical blow to the project. Now you’ve got the Big Lychee’s mild-mannered middle class raising funds on Facebook and planning a march, and yet another grand government idea bites the dust. As Fanny Law said, the reaction did not need to be this strong. But someone made it so.

It wouldn’t have been hugely impossible 10 years ago to draft a national security law free of loopholes that worried people. But no, they had to produce a bill full of scenarios that would probably never happen but would – if they did happen – not require the cops to have a warrant or the trial to have a jury. Thanks to such stupidity, Article 23 is probably irretrievable.

National education will probably be implemented at some stage in some form in mainstream schools. But only following humiliation and backtracking, and only alongside rigorous guidelines against bias, and only after doing the exact opposite of what it was supposed to achieve – greater empathy for the motherland among Hongkongers. All easily avoided, if they had done the job properly from the start.

The (or a) definition of intelligence: the ability to detect patterns.

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11 Responses to Article 23 revisited

  1. Gazza says:

    The aim is to give a signal only. Keep the populace afraid and you can achieve everything. Look at America.

  2. Old Timer says:

    The irony is that by the time of the handover, Colonial HK provided Chinese people with the least biased take on China’s history available, as it still does. Both Taiwan and the Mainland’s national education are so politically skewed as to be worse than useless.

  3. maugrim says:

    They have over egged the mix and as you say, if they had only done it properly from the start. Don’t forget the curriculum allready includes Chinese History and Liberal Studies, the latter having a large focus on modern China as part of its curriculum. The irony being is that LS is designed apparently to ask students to view an issue from multiple perspectives, thus HK has now created some sort of ‘pushmepullyou’ national ‘identity’ curriculum where kids are made to think and question yet obediently then do the opposite. The only amusing thing is that this bomb was created by previous administrations and then placed into the laps of those who can’t wait to prove their love of the motherland. On that level its going to be interesting to watch the squirming that will transpire. However, I’d have more respect for our august leaders if their own kids were educated under such a scheme, oh wait….

  4. Mary Hinge says:

    We don’t need no education.
    We don’t need no thought control …

  5. Stephen says:

    The Administration has since 1997 been totally out of touch with locals feelings about the People’s Republic of China and the Chinese Communist Party. To me it seems one of resigned acceptance of the situation rather than chest thumping pride.

    One day both the PRC and CCP will be gone and China will be the better for it and Hong Kong probably will feel alot happier being part that of China.

    Until then, do the basics, the geography, language etc, but don’t continue to ram things like this into Hong Kong’s face. As Hong Kong will continue to throw it straight back at you and leave the adminstration looking even more stupid in front of their mainland idols.

  6. Caroni Ma says:

    do you really have to bother about each and every little issue ‘du jour’, no matter how inconsequential ? and do you always have to whip up a conclusion that goes the ‘China so bad’-way ?

    time for a beer, I say.

  7. Iffy says:

    Stephen, well said, and you too Hemmers.

  8. So, So Thirsty says:

    I find it always pays to be completely cynical regarding the aims of anything & everything put forward by the HKG, and ‘national education’ is no exception. However, I am not as concerned about this new subject as I might otherwise have been, containing as it does the seeds of its own irrelevance. The Education Bureau, presumably in an attempt to ease acceptance, has ordained that there will be no marks, test, exams, pass/fails etc for the subject and will therefore have no impact on school/uni placements.

    What better way to ensure that it will be completely ignored. What HK parent is going to push their kids to do well (or even take notice of) a subject that doesn’t count? Goodness, you don’t even getsend them to a private tutor! No, I suspect that this will be the lesson where the kids get a chance to catch up on much needed sleep

  9. Real Tax Payer says:

    I must say I agree with So So Thirsty

    I well recall the religious studies class at school in UK

    Totally boring and no exam at the end

    But I used my time well because I took the opportunity to improve my handwriting during those classes by writing down every 4 th or 5th word very beautifully. Ah… golden days of childhood

  10. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    Compulsory religion classes throughout highschool turned me into an atheist. I paid attention, though, so at least I’m not one of those theologically ignorant atheist types filled with empty self-satisfied smugness. I’m filled with learned smugness instead. I can even sometimes remember what the Pelagian heresy was about, or explain why people died in riots arguing over homoousion vs homoiousian perspectives. That tends to bore people.

    Maybe these classes will do something similar for Hong Kong kids – imbibing the doctrines of an atheist state will turn them into free market capitalist Christians, like the Kwok brothers.

  11. Chimp says:

    I hear the Apple Daily is writing their own textbook for this subject. Should be a fucking good read, complete with headless corpses and bikini girls.

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