Fool's pride

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 10:42pm


The Basic Law stipulates that the Hong Kong government shall 'on its own, formulate policies on the development and improvement of education'. Yet the idea of national education, which is arousing such controversy, was evidently conceived not by the government here. It was proposed in Beijing by President Hu Jintao.

At a dinner on June 30, 2007, the president suggested to Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who was to be sworn in as chief executive the following day, that Hong Kong 'should put more emphasis on national education for the youth'.

In his next policy address, Tsang declared that his administration would 'attach great importance to promoting national education among our young people, so that they grow to love our motherland and Hong Kong' and 'have a strong sense of pride as nationals of the People's Republic of China'.

After that, Tsang returned each year in his policy address to the subject of national education, reiterating a desire to 'strengthen students' sense of national identity'.

The central government also did its part. Two months before Hu's visit, two pandas arrived to mark the 10th anniversary of the handover. The following year, China allowed equestrian events of the Beijing Olympics to be held in Hong Kong.

These moves had some success. Surveys conducted by the University of Hong Kong showed that Hongkongers' identification with the mainland peaked in 2008. Since then, there has been a marked drop. Last year, twice as many people identified themselves with Hong Kong than with China.

This was troubling to the Chinese government. Hao Tiechuan, the publicity chief of the central government's liaison office, acknowledged that national education is tantamount to brainwashing. But he said it was something that all countries do.

Actually, introducing national education is unnecessary. Hong Kong schools already offered moral and civic education. Expanding the syllabus to include the concept of national identity and other issues would not have been controversial.

In addition, making modern Chinese history a mandatory subject would go a long way to creating greater understanding of Hong Kong and its position in China, both now and historically.

The problem was the high-profile manner in which 'national education' was being ushered into Hong Kong, plus the stated purpose of fostering pride in China.

Fifteen years after the handover, it is doubtful if there are people who do not realise that the former British colony is now part of China. Pride in China is tangible in Hong Kong today with the country's spectacular rise over the last few decades. This is a natural process and there is no need for indoctrination.

Unthinking national pride, resulting in the attitude 'my country, right or wrong,' is not something that should be encouraged. As G.K. Chesterton said, it is equivalent to saying, 'my mother, drunk or sober'.

Such pride is meaningless and in fact dangerous.

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based writer and commentator. frank. Follow him on Twitter: @FrankChing1