My Take

Conspiracy theory on student study trips to China

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 April, 2015, 1:20am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 April, 2015, 1:27am

I am often puzzled by the strong resistance of local parents and students to their schools' exchange programmes to the mainland. However, the University of Hong Kong's proposed mandatory plan to make all its students visit the mainland on a study trip does seem excessive.

I just paid an arm and a leg for my two kids' school trips to the mainland. But my wife and I did enjoy almost a week by ourselves free of those brats. We thought of those trips as overpriced babysitting, and the kids had great fun. My daughter has come back a vegetarian after seeing how mainland farmers killed chickens. That seems a good thing.

Chinese or not, I can see no drawback for anyone to learn about China. Whether you are a Sinophobe or Sinophile, we can all agree some knowledge of China today is indispensable. But people are worried about brainwashing. How strange! The daughter of a family friend went to North Korea last year on a trip sponsored by a prestigious university in Britain. The North Korean comrades fed her and her schoolmates nothing but propaganda. She didn't come back a diehard communist and a Kim Jong-un cult worshipper. But it was a truly eye-opening experience for her to witness such a state-controlled society.

Since the vast majority of university students are young adults, they should have a choice in what courses and school activities they partake in, and that should include study trips.

I do have a conspiracy theory though. Many HKU students and academics are among the city's most committed political activists. Many people are worried if the university might become a hotbed of radicalisation. Well, it's time to discourage that, but not in an overtly obvious way. When HKU chief Professor Peter Mathieson was asked why it would take until 2022 to get the compulsory programmes ready, he said scheduling timetables, getting funding and selecting appropriate sites took time. Perhaps.

But eight years from now - or two undergraduate cycles later - the current student radicals will be long gone. New students will hesitate about joining radical politics if they must visit the mainland at least once to graduate. You can make all the noise in Hong Kong, but no one wants to be detained on the mainland.