• Wed
  • Aug 27, 2014
  • Updated: 11:28pm

You can't hurry love ... or pride in country and people

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 11:03pm

Pink Floyd were wrong when they sang 'We don't need no education', and not just because of their poor grammar. We should all be educated in the history of our own countries. But they were right when they added, 'We don't need no thought control.'

Last week was the 11th anniversary of my naturalisation as a Chinese national. For over five decades in the last century, I was a proud British citizen. And for more than a decade in this century, I have been a proud Chinese citizen.

I therefore feel as well qualified as anyone else, and perhaps better qualified than many, to comment on the proposal to introduce national education. It simply isn't necessary.

What makes a person proud to be from their own country? Surely, it starts with the fact that it is their own country. They are (usually) born there, they grow up there, they soak up the language and culture, it is their home.

As time goes by, young people learn about the history of their country - the highs and the lows. Whether through their family, or civic education in school, or from their church, or perhaps a combination of all three, they learn how to rub along with others in their own community and in the wider world. In similar circles and via the media, they debate the issues of the day, and gradually acquire a sense of right and wrong.

What usually emerges from this gradual process - and note that it is a process, and it is gradual - is a well-rounded citizen with a moral compass. He doesn't need to be taught to be proud of his people and his country, it is natural for him to be so. He will cheer for his country at sporting events, he will hum or sing the national anthem, he will recognise and respect his country's flag. But the process does not make him blind.

British people grow up learning that their forefathers played a part in the slave trade; that, in the 'Jewel of the Empire', there was a notorious jail called the 'Black Hole of Calcutta'; that, in the 19th century, they fought two opium wars with China.

They also learn that Britain took the lead in ending the slave trade; that the birthplace of democracy was a small village on the banks of the River Thames where a king was forced to sign Magna Carta; that, in two world wars, Britain stood up to resist the forces of tyranny.

The process of changing one's nationality, if done in a solemn way rather than casually to secure a foreign passport, forces a person to re-examine these things.

Becoming Chinese is a relatively straightforward process but because Chinese law does not permit dual nationality, it requires the applicant to give up - the legal word is the rather scary-sounding 'renounce' - the nationality he already holds.

There is much to be proud of about China: its long recorded history; the great inventions; the culture; the strength of the family; the economic transformation of the last 30 years that has lifted hundreds of millions out of abject poverty.

There is also much to query: the hundreds of millions who remain very poor; the use of military force to scatter students demonstrating against widespread corruption; and just in the last six months, both a blind dissident and a police chief felt safer in a foreign embassy than in their own country.

Most criticism of the national education subject has focused on the production of some very one-sided teaching materials by a company paid by the government no less than HK$72million over six years. It will be interesting to see if the director of audit is prepared to examine this product of the previous administration's sausage machine.

Some negativity has also spilled over onto the underlying guidelines. But the root cause of the problem is the original policy to have national education at all.

The mere fact that some people feel the need to fight a propaganda war to make other Chinese people proud to be Chinese means the battle is already lost.

My advice to our chief executive? You did not make this sausage, you don't need to eat it. It will only become another brick in the wall that separates you from the people of Hong Kong.

Mike Rowse is the search director of Stanton Chase International and an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. mike@rowse.com.hk

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