A quick flick through yesterday’s China Daily before throwing it out reveals a couple of interesting(-ish) articles. First of all somebody really, really hates the ‘rotten’, ‘monstrous’ English Schools Foundation. It seems everyone hates the ESF almost as much as they want to get their kids into it.
Commentator Victor Fung Keung lashes out against a publicly subsidized network of schools catering almost entirely to expatriate foreigners who are rich and should send their kids to private schools here or abroad – or somehow put the little ones into local Chinese-medium institutions. However, that’s not the ESF system of reality. A large proportion of its students today are permanent residents, many of them ethnic Chinese. So what is Fung’s real problem?
It seems to be hatred of the ESF as a colonial symbol, but there may be more to it. Some ESF-bashers have a seething, barely rational loathing of these Anglo schools. Kids who go to ESF schools come out different from other Hong Kong kids, for example in English-language skills and maybe in critical thinking. They are (mostly) not hyper-brainy types like their counterparts who go to local ‘elite’ schools and become barristers and surgeons. But they will have advantages over the products of mainstream local schools in many future careers. They will be able to do more than occupy the intermediary/broker/sales positions that the mainstream local exam-obsessed system condemns many kids to. So maybe social envy is the root problem.
Today’s South China Morning Post has an item by Sin-ming Shaw mentioning that Chief Executive CY Leung’s son is reportedly at a pricy boarding school in England, where the oh-so-important-and-vital National Education curriculum doesn’t exist. Strangely, this sort of privilege enjoyed by Hong Kong’s ruling elite (at public expense if they’re in the government) doesn’t arouse anything like the bitterness that exists towards the ESF. Presumably, the latter’s denizens are of broadly the same caste as people like Fung. Less social distance, more to resent.
Meanwhile, everyone’s favourite mouth-frothing patriot Lau Nai-keung wants an ideological war against the Hong Kong City State concept, as promoted by the Autonomy Movement of that name. Interestingly, he dismisses the classical Marxist solution of just giving the people “better-paying jobs and bigger houses” to wean them off this splittist course. (Lau was an early supporter of CY Leung, whose socio-economic policy vision can virtually be summarized in the jobs-and-houses line.) Something more subtle is needed in addition. Lau is particularly worried by the slogan “Chinese people go back to China” seen at the Reclaim Sheung Shui Station protest (see here and here). Understandably. He calls for confrontation with the ‘dissidents’ and the city-state idea with the aim of clarifying Hong Kong’s Chinese-ness while accommodating its differences. Establishment leaders, he says, are failing in their duty by avoiding the issue.
With the ESF issue, officials are avoiding open debate on what to do probably because they fear highlighting local schools’ inadequacies and raising the possibility that ordinary riffraff should have more right to choose what sort of school their kids should attend. It would be interesting to know what Lau thinks of some people’s preference for the ‘colonial’ school system. Lau is probably right to say that an open struggle of ideas with what he sees as an anti-China force would be enlightening. But again, we can expect officials to do all they can to avoid it, for fear of finding out something they don’t want to know. Given the recent National Education mess, they can probably be forgiven for not overtly taking on supporters of local autonomy and identity.