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Cultural Revolution

How Comrade Lei Feng taught me that communist ‘Red Army’ legends have no place in Hong Kong schools

Queenie Luo says a globalised world necessitates a cosmopolitan education, and warns against Hong Kong’s young students being locked into a dogmatic slumber like those in mainland China’s ‘Red Army’ schools

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 August, 2017, 2:08pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 August, 2017, 7:06pm

In 2012, then chief executive Leung Chun-ying tried to bring in national education, aimed at instilling patriotic sentiment in students. The plan was shelved after a widespread backlash against educational “brainwashing”. However, current Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has indicated she will proceed with the proposals, despite opposition.

The controversy reminds me of an important moment from my primary school days in Beijing, 20 years ago. As a student, I worked hard at fulfilling the expectations of my teachers and parents. One day, this dedication was rewarded.

The principal announced my name at a school assembly. I was selected as a role model due to my excellent behaviour and rigorous adherence to party doctrines. The student body responded with vigorous applause. My heart pounded and I was suffused with an immense sense of pride – my physiological response stoking a desire to strive hard for the cause of the Communist Party.

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Looking back, I am shocked by how susceptible my seven-year-old self was to ideological conformity, and how zealous a person can be in the name of love of country. “Red Army” schools use “ideological techniques”, such as the stories of Comrade Lei Feng, to instil patriotic sentiment in pupils. Lei Feng, a legendary figure from the Cultural Revolution era, read Mao’s Little Red Book every day, and eventually sacrificed his life in a heroic fashion for the party. He is presented as a model for Chinese to emulate; students are asked to sacrifice their own desires for a greater purpose. It was only after being exposed to the US education system that I realised that the stories of Lei Feng stretch credulity.

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In a globalised world, a cosmopolitan education is essential. The prosperity of Hong Kong has been in part the result of its open world view. In 2016, Hong Kong ranked as the eighth-largest world trading entity, hosting more than 7,000 overseas companies. It welcomed almost 57 million visitors last year, and has at least 50 international schools, more than any other city in Asia. For Hong Kong to continue to play an important role in world trade, this openness is necessary. National education would undermine the city’s unique international identity, locking our next generation into a dogmatic slumber similar to students in “Red Army” schools.

My experience has reinforced my commitment to a wider concept of global citizenship. Only by embracing a cosmopolitan education can youth be exposed to the full variety of ways of life, freedom and ethical responsibility available to global citizens, as well as the prosperity that comes from connection to the outside world.

Queenie Luo, who grew up in Beijing and moved to Canada in 2008, is a student at Columbia University in New York