In the footsteps of an old sage
YP cadet Phoebe Chan
A group of students in a local secondary school stand as they dutifully recite the familiar words: 'The Master said: 'It is a pleasant experience to apply what you have learned, isn't it?'.'
Every Hong Kong student is familiar with such Confucian texts from their Chinese lessons.
'Founded by Confucius, this core ideology has been the official [doctrine] in Chinese culture since the Han dynasty [for more than 2,000 years],' says Law Chor-wan, a Chinese teacher in Wa Ying College.
'Confucian philosophy talks about the cultivation of self and how that can help promote a harmonious relationship among people in society.'
Law has been teaching Confucian texts in her class for 15 years. The ancient texts, she says, have withstood the test of time. They can still help students to appreciate their ancestors' principles.
Yet in this era of social media, do young people think Confucianism is still relevant and useful to them?
Esther Mak Hoi-kay, 16, a Form Four student at an international school, thinks so.
'Confucian education allows us to understand that life is not limited to the pursuit of wealth and career success,' she says. 'It highlights the respectable traits one should have.'
Lillian Leung Hor-kiu, who is also in Form Four, agrees. Such teachings are as important as ever, she says.
'Confucianism allows us to look back to our Chinese history and [traditional] values. Such teachings have helped create Chinese culture, which is so diverse and unique,' the 16-year-old says.
'Speed and convenience are highly prioritised in our world, but it leaves us no time to reflect on life itself.'
Law says ancient wisdom can help us rediscover what is important in life.
'In this materialistic world, we have become self-centred and our sense of morality is [getting] low,' the teacher says.
'That's why we should re-emphasise the importance of Confucianism in education.'
Confucianism, she explains, helps students understand that the focus of education is not just to get them ready for careers, but to enhance their morality and practice of human values.
As for criticisms of rote learning, which is often used in many Chinese classes, Law says memorising the texts is only the first step.
'Memorising alone is useless,' she says. 'One must apply [teachings] to life.'
She says Confucian concepts should first be taught with the help of stories and poems in primary schools.
Later, they can be explained more in depth in secondary school.
Yet incorporating Confucian ideals of moral education into the exam-oriented curriculums of Hong Kong could be a challenge.
'In the current system, teachers have to focus on knowledge related to exams, which comes at the cost of proper moral education,' she says.
Following the advice of Confucius himself, Law encourages students to engage in group study. The hope is that students will apply what they learn to their daily lives.
Lillian is doing just that.
'There is a saying,' she notes. ''Whenever there are three people, one of them will be a teacher' . I will always remember that. I will try to teach others and learn from them, too.'