Quiz proves ignorance can also be found over the border

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 May, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 May, 2002, 12:00am

THE HONG KONG handover in 1997 is a matter of national pride for China. Hence there were more than a few red faces when an aspirant in a government-sanctioned talent contest in front of a nationwide audience failed to answer a question asking when the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region was established.

To spice up the show, organisers of the Tenth All-China Young Singers TV Grand Awards Tournament decided to add a quiz segment to challenge the budding stars. The competition is hosted by China Central TV.

About 16 contestants appeared in a studio to show off their musical skills for eight evenings in a row. The match is traditionally a stepping stone for young performers. It has been so successful that authorities upgraded the event into a national musical competition in 1997.

This year participants were asked a question to test their general knowledge. The new arrangement is supposed to gauge their 'overall quality'. But after one hopeful proved ignorant of the fact that China resumed sovereignty over the British colony five years ago, the People's Daily put the topic up for public debate on its online edition. The handover is, after all, regarded as one of China's biggest achievements in the past half-century.

Another contender was asked to name the five permanent members of the United Nations' Security Council. Instead of naming China, France, Russia, the UK and the US, all the participant could muster was a nonsensical answer: 'Sydney, Geneva . . .' Many others simply went silent after hearing their question.

The intellectual performance of the singers was so disappointing it has triggered a series of scathing commentaries in mainland press.

The host was eager to explain the poor results away as accidental, saying it was not uncommon for even a knowledgable person to stumble in such on-the-spot quizzes. The media, however, remained unconvinced, suggesting that as so many singers had failed, the problem appeared to be widespread.

CCTV subsequently announced on its Web site that the average score of the participants in the quiz was 58 per cent. Last weekend, the Beijing Youth Daily observed that that figure appeared more flattering than what the audience saw on television.

'Some may want to justify their dismal results by affirming the participants are only amateurs. The problem arises exactly from their amateur status,' the paper said. 'They all have proper jobs and duties. Some of the singers are so deficient in their common sense that one must question how they can discharge their functions properly as cadres, secretaries and employees.'

The Worker's Daily also joined the chorus of criticism. It noted that these contestants were supposed to be 'spiritual products' who would one day become role models for the country.

'If a person is hungry, he looks for food. But some people are stupid and yet do not realise that they need to learn,' the paper said.

Previously, Hong Kong Chinese had been mocked in mainland media for their ignorance, as reflected by the low standard of participants who took part in ATV's version of the popular quiz show Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? They took another beating recently when independent surveys indicated mainland youngsters had been spending more of their pocket money on leisure reading than those in Hong Kong.

But while Hong Kong people may not feel exonerated by the mainland singers' lack of knowledge, at least they can now assert with some confidence that the idea their compatriots across the border are superior in knowledge and common sense is, at least, a myth.

Andy Ho is a political commentator