An issue more about reflection than spin

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 October, 2008, 12:00am

In terms of word length, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has never backed away from the topic of 'national education' in his policy addresses. The 2007 policy address has a total of 130 paragraphs while this year's speech contained 137 paragraphs.

By comparison, electoral arrangements for 2012 was given a one-paragraph treatment in his latest speech, while clean fuels and healthcare reform each got two paragraphs.

Mr Tsang's relatively lengthy remarks on the issue, however, failed to conceal a lack of thought-provoking ideas and substantive initiatives about how Hong Kong should promote understanding of the fast-developing nation.

That Mr Tsang had to make reference to an increase in the number of students taking mainland study trips - from 5,000 to 37,000 - as the only substantive initiative speaks something about the dearth of ideas and approach.

This is despite the fact the development of China is entering a new phase this year and next in symbolic, if not substantive, terms.

This year, which marks the 30th anniversary of China's open and reform policy, saw Beijing host the Olympic Games - the first time on Chinese soil - and Chinese astronauts staging a spacewalk during the Shenzhou-VII mission.

Next year is the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. It will also be remembered as a special year for many Chinese who have not forgotten the June 4 tragedy.

Though still with two more months to go, 2008 looks certain to go down as one of the most eventful years in Chinese history with the deadly earthquake in Sichuan province and the tainted milk scandal, among other headline news.

Taken together, 2008 and 2009 are no doubt good times to foster better understanding and more soul-searching on the developments of the nation.

Superficially, there has been no lack of events and activities under the theme of national education. Schools, businesses, community groups and journalist organisations have organised regular 'Understanding China' seminars in Hong Kong and the mainland.

The leadership capitalised on China's success at the Beijing Olympics and the space mission to promote national pride and a sense of identity.

The visit of the Chinese gold medallists to Hong Kong in late August was turned into a huge city-wide celebration of the nation's ringing success in athletics and, also importantly, in the global league of powers.

There is no denying that promoting the nation's achievements in such areas as sport and space technology helps galvanise patriotic feelings.

But emphasising only progress in economic development, sports and technology verges on propaganda, while missing the big picture - including deep-seated contradictions - facing 1.3 billion Chinese.

Amid the joy and celebrations of the success of the top athletes, cynics had good reason to doubt whether there had been thorough, open and frank debate on important, though sensitive, issues like how Olympics could become an agent of change in China's political systems and culture.

There are valid concerns that upcoming government-sponsored activities marking the 30th anniversary of China's reform policy could become mass brainwashing exercises that emphasise only the triumphs and achievements of the nation since 1978 while glossing over its failures and shortcomings.

The key to success in national education is to nurture a sense of nationhood through the promotion of independent, critical thinking among the people on the basis of whole truths, not half-truths and lies, prejudices and bias.

Chris Yeung is the Post's editor-at-large.


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