Brainwashing fears stoked as Hong Kong schools encouraged to broadcast Beijing official’s Basic Law speech live
Government circular raises concerns among teachers, pupils and others
Hong Kong’s Education Bureau has once again drawn accusations of patriotic brainwashing after a circular surfaced inviting secondary schools to stream a broadcast of a seminar featuring a senior Beijing official.
Despite raising questions about the government’s intention to have pupils view the event, some schools expressed confidence the children would handle the experience with a critical mind.
The circular, issued to school operators last week, stated the Basic Law seminar to be held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre next month would celebrate the 20th anniversary of the city’s handover from British to Chinese rule.
According to the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau, Basic Law Committee chairman Li Fei is to deliver a speech about Hong Kong’s role and mission under both the country’s constitution and the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.
Four other experts in the field were expected to share their views at the event also.
But the bureau said the seminar did not exclusively target schools and that lawmakers and business representatives had also been invited. A live online broadcast is to be made available for those unable to attend in person.
A bureau spokesman explained it had invited sponsoring bodies to arrange for their secondary-level teachers and pupils to watch the broadcast and encouraged government schools to make arrangements to enhance understanding of the “one country, two systems” principle and Basic Law.
He added that participation was purely voluntary and that each school could determine its own arrangements.
But education lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen pointed to a reply slip in the circular stating sponsoring bodies had to indicate whether they would broadcast the seminar as well as leave their contact details.
“Some sponsoring bodies complained to us that they felt pressured,” he said. “They’re worried about the consequences [of not taking part].”
Ip claimed it was the first time the government demanded schools participate in a live broadcast of an official’s speech.
“The pupils will only hear a one-sided view from Li Fei,” he said. “This kind of arrangement is not in keeping with Hong Kong’s tradition, culture or practice.”
A government schoolteacher speaking on condition of anonymity challenged the motive behind the circular.
“Beijing’s interpretation of the Basic Law is different from ours and their legal perspective is not in line with that of Hong Kong’s,” he said.
He believed political considerations played a role.
The news came after the mainland’s education minister, Chen Baosheng, spoke of the importance of national education for teachers in the city.
But the teacher expressed confidence that his pupils possessed adequate critical thinking skills to question the subject matter.
Form Five pupil Comson Or Yan-lung said his teacher told him only those studying history in senior secondary levels would be required to watch.
“I take history as an elective and am learning about Hong Kong history now, so this will be useful,” he said.
Or added that his teacher advised pupils to adopt their own stance and thinking as they watched.
Still, he believed schools should not require junior secondary pupils to view the broadcast, saying they might not be familiar enough with the topic to critically analyse the discussions.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor denied accusations that the government was forcing all pupils to watch the broadcast.
Lam said the Education Bureau was responsible for strengthening Basic Law instruction and that schools previously might not have had the equipment to make such a broadcast possible.
Additional reporting by Kimmy Chung and Jeffie Lam