“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.