During the recent Hong Kong appearances by the crew of Shenzhou 9, the astronauts’ interactions with local residents were characterized by mutual admiration filled with true sentiment. Today’s South China Morning Post shows one of them crying and another playing a harmonica…
Yesterday’s SCMP quoted a young visitor to one of these events as complaining that it had been about trivia rather than science. But that’s manned space missions in a nutshell. Putting humans into space is absurdly costly (even though China has done it on the cheap by creating the Tiangong space station out of an unmanned supply craft design). Once all the life-support systems are in place, there is little room left for serious experiments. The Hubble telescope does ground-breaking cosmology, and the Rover vehicle Curiosity just landed on Mars might tell us whether life can form beyond our planet. Fox News takes it all seriously, but astronauts are really just an expensive PR gimmick to bolster national pride.
Rather like China’s top athletes – at least those who didn’t shame the motherland with mere bronzes and silvers – who will be following the astronauts on a tour of the Big Lychee. They will demonstrate their physical skills at Queen Elizabeth Stadium (the arena’s Chinese name is less horrifying) before gathering for the modestly titled Olympic Gold Medalists’ Extravaganza, for which the government is happy to discuss TV rights if anyone’s interested. It is not known whether any of the sports stars will cry or play the harmonica, but I am assured that the evening will end with The Who playing My Generation. The Social Welfare Department is reserving some 4,000 tickets for the underprivileged – not that the government is afraid half the seats will be empty or anything.
Meanwhile, the National Education mess lurks in the background. The Hong Kong government is reduced to writing pitiful letters to the New York Times in an attempt to limit damage to its own – and actually Hong Kong’s – reputation. And the Ombudsman is investigating government grants to pro-Beijing organizations to produce teaching manuals containing now-infamous brainwashing propaganda (they also take students on trips to the Mainland to see Chairman Mao’s much-repaired pajamas). Asian Sentinel views it all with suspicion. The reality is probably more humdrum; officials threw money at the patriotic groups to shut them up and to get Beijing off their backs. Look, we’re subsidizing Leftist educational work, so we must be taking all this motherland BS seriously, right?
The same goes for the ever-shifting justification the government is using in its attempts to sell the new curriculum to the Hong Kong public. The original approach of bundling ‘national’ with ‘moral’ education led officials to claim, in effect, that nurturing national pride was all about encouraging independent thinking. For some reason, this has failed to convince, so the new spin is that this is all about filling a hitherto unnoticed but apparently yawning gap in kiddies’ schooling. Liberal Studies teaches kids how to think, and Chinese History teaches them facts, but – oh my god! – they’re not learning values. It’s a gap. We must fill the gap. Moral and National Education fills the gap by teaching values.
Pragmatic government apologists are also pointing out that students need to learn about their country. This may be true, but that wasn’t why Donald Tsang’s administration introduced the National Education policy. Sir Bow-Tie did it so Beijing would think his government was taking national pride seriously. However, because it actually did not, it introduced a half-baked policy with no credibility. (Looking back, most of his time in office was about gestures). Now a new administration – led by someone who does take patriotism seriously – is left trying to implement this rubbish. Unable to admit to senior leaders in Beijing the terrible truth that Hong Kong has been trying to fob them off with a joke National Education policy, CY Leung has no choice but to stick with it. What a tangled web we weave…
Meanwhile, away from all the infantilism and delusion, in the Western world where people are brought up to think critically, a man in Beeville, Texas, finds a taco with an image of Charles Manson on it. (He thinks it’s Jesus, but – to put it gently – the poor guy is in adult care.)