Make Chinese history compulsory to end Hong Kong youngsters’ identity crisis, says CPPCC Standing Committee member Annie Wu

Businesswoman calls for secondary school students to engage critically with mainland’s past, and for a less narrow curriculum

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 January, 2017, 10:01am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 January, 2017, 11:39am

Young Hongkongers will face an identity crisis for at least another decade because they have not been taught enough about Chinese history, a Hong Kong school supervisor who serves on the nation’s top advisory body has said.

To remedy that, Annie Wu Suk-ching, a member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, called for educators to focus more on teaching Chinese history in a critical way, teaching the city’s position as part of China, as well as reforming what she said was a narrow curriculum.

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Her comments came as the Education Bureau revises the junior secondary Chinese history curriculum, and as pro-establishment politicians demand the government make Chinese history a compulsory subject at senior secondary level, after independence-minded university and secondary school students started advocating the city’s breakaway from the mainland, handing out fliers and hanging banners.

Wu, also chairman of the Chinese History and Culture Educational Foundation for Youth, which promotes Chinese cultural activities, said Chinese history had been forced into a back seat in Hong Kong, following an education reform that began in 2000.

She added that in improving and revitalising the city’s education system, the team leading the reform – led by former financial secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung – focused too much on the core subjects of English, Chinese language, maths and liberal studies to get students into universities, and neglected Chinese history, which is optional at senior secondary levels.

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“It is very important for us to allow young people to have more understanding of Chinese history because this is China’s territory,” Wu said.

“I think [the government and education commission during the reforms] were not far-sighted enough and created this dilemma in Hong Kong. I think we will still be having this problem and identity crisis for another 10 years because of the lack of understanding.”

Wu pointed out that in countries like Singapore and the Philippines studying the nation’s history is not optional for students.

Hong Kong is embroiled in a heated debate on whether mainland history should be compulsory at senior secondary level. Many pan-democrats have spoken out against such a change, calling it a “brainwashing” move and the “new national education”. In 2012 the government scrapped a plan to implement national education – aimed at nurturing patriotism among students – after protests lasting 10 days.

Some educators have also criticised the government’s proposed revised junior secondary Chinese history curriculum, which they said focused more on positive aspects and less on negative topics like disorder and the fall of different dynasties.

Besides making Chinese history compulsory, Wu, a graduate of Sacred Heart Canossian College, said it was important to be critical while teaching the subject.

She recalled reading whilst at school about the May Fourth Movement, an anti-imperialist, cultural, and political movement in China in 1919.

Then, she said, her teachers, who were born in Hong Kong, would criticise certain aspects of Chinese history.

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“At that time, we had critical thinking, much more open-minded than nowadays,” she said.

“During Chinese history lessons, we learned about the problems of the dynasties and the corruption and had a critical approach to learning why the dynasties failed.”

The influential businesswoman – whose family founded one of the city’s largest catering companies, Maxim’s – said the Education Bureau needed to overhaul its mindset to keep the city competitive and train better students for the future.

She said that the bureau focuses too much on details, bureaucracy and rules, and not enough on “what’s happening in the whole world in innovation and in technology, and how to help schoolmasters and teachers to be really well nurtured to fit in the times”.