A sorry case for patriotism in schools

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 August, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 August, 1997, 12:00am

Some recent public comments of mine have elicited an energetic response from three distinguished intellectuals - Richard Baum, a visiting professor of Asian studies at Chinese University; Hugh Tyrwhitt-Drake, an educator; and fellow Post columnist Tim Hamlett, a professor of journalism at Baptist University.

There have been some heated exchanges and at times I was very rude to them. For this I apologise. But let me get back to the subjects of our disagreement and present my case. Professor Baum and Mr Tyrwhitt-Drake are taken aback by my suggestion that we must start teaching children to be enlightened, patriotic and confident.

The first thing every morning in my high-school days - and every elementary-school student in California today has to do the same - I had to solemnly 'pledge allegiance to the flag of the USA and to the republic for which it stands, a nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all'. For my peers the story of America was one of Mayflower to glory with hiccups in between.

We all have our biases and no one is totally objective. Professor Baum's defence of American values is a demonstration of his patriotism.

Neither Professor Baum nor Mr Tyrwhitt-Drake - who dismisses my amateurism in regard to education (which is true) - can dissuade me from asserting the urgent need in Hong Kong to instil in our next generation a pride their parents were denied as colonial subjects.

These gentlemen's stance has only deepened my conviction in the necessary education reforms as outlined in my 17-page report which has been submitted to expert and lay educators. I doubt very much that any professional has a monopoly on educational ethics.

Mr Hamlett, the journalism professor, incredibly claims in his article, 'Lacking credibility by getting the facts wrong' (Sunday Morning Post, July 27), that 'I do not actually recall any predictions of doomsday' from foreign journalists. Was he oblivious to the Fortune cover headline mourning 'The death of Hong Kong'; the book by Robert Cottrell titled End of Hong Kong ; and others that are similarly macabre? He contends that 'Hong Kong was not overwhelmed, and indeed most of it was not celebrating'. He wrote that the hundreds of thousands who enjoyed the fireworks despite the threatening downpour did so because: 'Of course if you let off fireworks people will turn up to watch them. No deeper feelings than the desire to watch money burned on a large scale need be involved.' This is not fair to all of us who were enthralled while watching the fireworks.

Mr Hamlett further argues that people could not have been pleased with the end of colony because he did not witness 'dancing in the streets'. This indeed represents a cultural gap because we, reserved Chinese, are not exuberant in our celebrations. But that does not mean we feel the joy of the moment any the less.

The thousands in the New Territories who braved drenching rain to welcome the People's Liberation Army and the more than 100 kilograms of mementoes I have received in commemoration of the sovereignty change attest to our euphoria on the return of Hong Kong.

In a place where East meets West, people are entitled to freedom of expression unbridled by their background, status, race or creed. It is freedom of expression that enables Hong Kong to flourish in a cosmopolitan atmosphere.

While we cherish foreign expertise and opinions, we have become, from July 1 onwards, the captains of this ship which we are to skipper to the destination of our choosing, bearing in mind also the interests of the world at large.

I certainly have learned a lot from these debates: in particular, the importance of keeping an open mind.