Silk Road exhibit offers way to teach sensitive subjects in Hong Kong, says think tank
Exhibition is politically non-controversial subject that could be effective in raising national pride, says vice-chairman of Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies
A major cultural exhibition on the ancient Silk Road could be a way to address potentially sensitive issues such as youth education without causing an uproar, a leading pro-Beijing adviser has observed.
Jointly presented by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage and the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, “Miles upon Miles: World Heritage along the Silk Road”, which opens to the public on Wednesday at the Hong Kong Museum of History, will feature some 210 rare exhibits from four provinces and two countries, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, in Central Asia, which the ancient Silk Road traversed.
Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, a semi-official think tank, viewed the exhibition as an effective way to engage the young about China.
“As Hong Kong will play a role in the national belt-road policy, it would be fitting for students to know about the country’s development strategy,” he told the Post from Beijing, referring to the “Belt and Road Initiative”, China’s plan to boost global trade.
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“Instead of doing it through national education, there are different and more effective ways to get students to know about the country’s development and strengthen their national identity, such as the ancient Silk Road, which is about history and culture and not the Chinese Communist Party or central government.”
National education is a contentious subject in Hong Kong. In 2012, plans to make the subject compulsory were dropped after students and parents protested against the proposal because the were worried the classes would amount to “political brainwashing”.
Lau called the Silk Road, especially its historical culture and technology, “a politically non-controversial subject that could be effective in raising one’s national pride”.
“The Silk Road exhibition is a cultural event so it may be a convenient pretext for other relatively more sensitive issues to tag along such as education on the motherland.”
At a private opening of the exhibition on Tuesday, Hong Kong’s leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, officiated a signing ceremony of two agreements with the culture ministry and the State Administration of Cultural Heritage that would allow for closer cooperation between the mainland and the city on cultural matters.
The museum’s assistant curator of extension services, Clara Chuk Wing-mui, confirmed 30,000 pamphlets had been “tailor-made” for primary and secondary school pupils during their visits to the exhibition, which will run through next March.
“In order to give students something to take away after the visit, we have compiled the two pamphlets according to the general education curriculum for primary schools and Chinese history curriculum for secondary schools,” Chuk said.
Wu Siu-wai, deputy chairman of the pro-government Federation of Education Workers, said the pamphlets seemed educational but it would be unnecessary for every pupil or student who visits the exhibition to have one.
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“To use the pamphlet or not should depend on the teachers’ plans of visit,” Wu said.
When asked if the pamphlets embodied a soft approach by the government to promote education on Chinese history and national pride, Wu said such education should be conducted “in different ways and styles” and the special exhibition has “blurred the line between public education and school education”.
“I welcome more resources for schools to beef up the education on the Belt and Road Initiative because it will be important for our students’ future, but the schools should retain the autonomy to decide how to use these resources,” Wu said.
Ip Kin-yuen, legislator of the education sector, said the pamphlets seemed “all right” to him since the ancient Silk Road had always been part of Hong Kong’s history education.