HK's young activists bring hope of democracy

Albert Cheng applauds the group of students who, with passion and skill, built a powerful social movement against national education in schools

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 September, 2012, 2:39am

The campaign against the introduction of national education has grown in Hong Kong, touching the hearts of many people. It motivated individuals and groups to come forward to organise their own protests or support other large-scale events.

The campaign has effectively evolved into an unstoppable civic movement. The "Occupy Tamar" campaign, organised or supported by members of Scholarism, the National Education Parents' Concern Group and the Professional Teachers' Union, staged an impressive 11-day "occupation" of the government's headquarters as well as a hunger strike.

During the sit-in, tens of thousands of Hongkongers turned up night after night to offer their support. At the peak, an estimated 120,000 people gathered around Tamar. If not for the government climbdown, the campaign could have led to unthinkable social and political impact.

On the surface, the government seems to have compromised by withdrawing the requirement for its implementation in schools in three years and not to bring up the issue in the next five years. In reality, it's a delaying tactic because the issue has only been shelved, not scrapped.

There are reasons why its proposed introduction stirred up so much angst in society. When the subject was raised by the last administration, it didn't seem to raise many eyebrows. The public sees the Leung Chun-ying administration as a political puppet controlled by Beijing's liaison office in Hong Kong.

First, Leung won the chief executive election by default, meaning he came to power without a genuine mandate. And then he tried to push through national education despite rising public discontent. People were bound to resist; Leung should have seen it coming.

But, without the members of Scholarism taking the lead, the campaign wouldn't have grown into something so powerful.

It was most encouraging to see that the core motivator in all this was a 15-year-old secondary school student, Joshua Wong Chi-fung. Wong, the co-founder of Scholarism, has come to symbolise the fight against national education. Without him and his group doing the legwork, pulling people and supporters together, it would have been impossible to achieve such an outcome.

It's a good thing that we didn't rely on education associations, political parties and other non-governmental organisations; their conventional approach would have been futile.

Scholarism was set up in May last year by Wong and his schoolmate, Ivan Lam Long-yin. Their objective is simple and straightforward - to force the government to scrap moral and national education. They believe its implementation will not only brainwash young minds and restrict students' intellectual freedom, but it also goes against the principle of "one country, two systems" because it allows Beijing to stick its nose into our educational policy.

Scholarism now has some 300 student members. Its influence is certainly growing, which means it can motivate more and more people.

On July 29, the group, the parents' group and the teachers' union led a protest rally attended by 90,000 parents and their children. But despite the public outcry, all the government did was set up the Committee on the Implementation of Moral and National Education, hoping to allay public concern. The goal was to use the committee, headed by executive councillor Anna Wu Hung-yuk, to whitewash the whole thing and force people in the sector to toe the line.

When all attempts to fight off this national education monster seemed to have failed, Wong and his friends banded together and spearheaded the hunger strike outside Tamar. Their unrelenting efforts immediately reignited public concern and eventually motivated the community to come forward.

Now the campaign has spread far and wide, taking root and flourishing in tertiary institutions, educational and cultural sectors as well as the social services and medical sectors. Even individuals are organising their own protests in support of the general movement.

The movement has undoubtedly triggered a broad sense of civic awareness in society, motivating people to vote in last Sunday's Legislative Council election. It boosted voter turnout, allowing the pan-democrats and the opposition to maintain a veto power.

Unfortunately, the pro-government camp has tried to dismiss the encouraging efforts of Scholarism's young activists by accusing them of being controlled by political parties or even outside influences. How absurd.

These dim-witted pro-establishment politicians will never understand that these young campaigners managed to move people because they have no hidden agenda or underlying motives. Their objectives are simple and clear and thus their genuine passion to change things won the hearts of Hongkongers.

Under the Leung government, Hong Kong has lost many of its core values and principles. But, with the rise of a new generation of political activists like Wong and his schoolmates, we now have a glimmer of hope. They are not only the future pillars of society, but they will also help push us to realise our democracy dream.

Albert Cheng King-hon is a political commentator. [email protected]