Alpais Lam

Attacks on teacher Alpais Lam highlight dirty politics in Hong Kong

Kerry Kennedy says debate over 'morality' has broader consequences

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 September, 2013, 3:39am

The case of Alpais Lam Wai-sze, the teacher who swore at police during an altercation concerning Falun Gong protesters, raises important issues for the Hong Kong community.

Teachers are held in high regard here so any public action that appears to bring them into disrepute will be closely monitored. Yet Hong Kong's unstable political conditions cannot be disregarded. At any other time, the issue may not have received such attention. In the current circumstances, however, where any middle ground seems to have given in to radicalism, Lam's comments have proved incendiary. Some would say they have revealed the dark side of Hong Kong's politics.

It should be understood from the beginning that Lam is a good teacher. In 2011, she won a Chief Executive's Award for Teaching Excellence and last month she featured on an RTHK programme titled "Outstanding Teachers 2013". As far as professional standards go, this indicates that Lam's are not in doubt. So what is in doubt?

The issue is one of public standards. How is a teacher expected to behave in the community? The Code of the Education Profession can help here. It says that Hong Kong teachers are expected to "show respect for the law and the behavioural norms acceptable to society as a whole". By this standard, Lam's behaviour might be seen to be lacking, since she is publicly portrayed as attacking police and using bad language. On the other hand, the code also requires teachers to "be aware of current affairs, show concern about social problems and do his/her best to maintain a healthy social environment".

Reports of the incident indicate that Lam was coming to the aid of some Falun Gong protesters who were being harassed by another group. There are always two sides to a story. In this case, Lam's right, some would say obligation, to come to the aid of individuals she saw being unfairly treated has been given little air time. Politics intervened.

Initially, the anti-democracy media portrayed her in a very negative light as a teacher in breach of public standards. For a short time, Lam became the pro-democracy advocate the media loved to a hate. But the attacks went further than that.

First, there were rumours that anti-democracy groups would play the video of the incident outside her school when students returned. This does not seem to have happened but, certainly, banners were hung outside demanding that the school deal with Lam's "immoral" behaviour. Saddest of all, a funeral wreath was found nearby with Lam's name on it.

This can only be seen as a reprehensible action demonstrating the depth of anti-democratic feelings in Hong Kong and the inherent problem faced by the administration in building a just and harmonious society. Such actions have no place in Hong Kong as it struggles to become a democratic society.

Yet there are repercussions from this incident. Teachers are now under attack in general from anti-democracy groups which claim their political views will bias their teaching and assessment of student work. They have called for teachers' political affiliations to be made public. They are also insisting that liberal studies be replaced in the senior secondary curriculum with Chinese history.

I imagine it's their view of such history they will champion. Lam's case is all about politics, not morality, and it is dirty politics played out by personal attack and denigration. It has no place here.

Professor Kerry Kennedy is co-director of the Centre for Governance and Citizenship at the Hong Kong Institute of Education