(Xinhua/Li Gang)

OPINION-Chinese Nationalism and Hong Kong’s Curriculum Reform

Judging from the recent content of curriculum reform in Hong Kong’s secondary schools, the enhancement of Chinese nationalism, national identity and national security have become the foci in the education reform of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR).

In mid-April, the Education Department of the HKSAR government published a detailed lesson plan on how to enhance the ingredient of national security education in eleven subjects in secondary schools.

On May 26, the Education Department publicized further how the rest of the four subjects – Chinese history, history, life and society subject, and economics – can consolidate the content of Chinese nationalism, national identity and national security.

First and foremost, in the subject of Chinese history, curriculum reform in accordance with the national security education is introduced at two levels: junior high and senior high levels. At the junior high level, the reformed pedagogy has to achieve two objectives: (1) let students “comprehensively understand the main events and personalities” in different historical periods, including the need to “understand the importance of political and cultural security and to elevate students’ national identity, mission and responsibility;” and (2) allow students to “clearly understand how the nation overcame difficulties amid foreign invasion, including the British occupation of Hong Kong and China’s diligent process of recovering its sovereignty,” so that students’ sense of national identity, mission and responsibility can be enhanced.

At the senior high level, the Chinese history subject needs to “build up the experiences of national independence and autonomy and to help students construct a full and comprehensive sense of the nation” though compulsory topics like foreign invasion, the anti-Japanese war, the open-door policy and foreign relations. Moreover, students need to “appreciate the value of traditional culture, comprehend the evolution of different systems, tolerate different religions” so that “the important foundation of maintaining national stability and development and the solidarity of ethnic minorities can be laid down.”

These two levels of Chinese history subject will, according to the curriculum reform plan, be accompanied by students’ activities, such as the appreciation of Chinese culture through an understanding of the life of Tang dynasty’s women, the Tang clothing, and the dressing style of people in the Tang dynasty. Other study activities embrace an appreciation of the anti-Japanese war songs, interviews with the old members of the Dongjiang guerillas in South China, oral history interviews with old guerillas, inspections of the anti-Japanese war sites in Hong Kong, and visits to Nanking and the historical sites related to the Opium War and the Treaty of Nanking.

Second, the history subject at the junior high level will have to strengthen students’ sense of national consciousness and identity by not only emphasizing the historical fact that “Hong Kong from the ancient time has been a part of Chinese territory, but also covering how the Chinese nation recovered its sovereignty over Hong Kong after foreign invasion and the British occupation of the territory.” At the senior high level, the history subject needs to let students understand that the Chinese nation in the process of modernization attaches great importance to political, cultural and national security. Students will have to be “responsible citizens” and “Chinese citizens who possess global vision.”

Third, the subject of life and society at the junior high level will need to cover the Chinese nation’s current development and directions, its constitution, and the constitutional foundation between the Hong Kong Basic Law and the Chinese constitution. In this way, students will be expected to understand the content of national, political, economic, resource and military security and the security of the overseas interest of China.

Fourth, the subject of economics at the senior high level will cover the topics of money, banks, international trade and finance and students will be expected to understand the importance of economic security and the people’s livelihood. Students will also be expected to comprehend that Hong Kong coexists with the Chinese nation and that Hong Kong has its duty to maintain China’s economic security, while the nation contributing to the maintenance of Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability.

Obviously, the curriculum reform of the four subjects aims at enhancing the Hong Kong students’ sense of national identity, their nationalistic sentiment, and their understanding of the historical linkages between Hong Kong and the Chinese nation.

A history teacher of the Pui Kiu Secondary School, Muk Ka-chuen, responded to the Education Department’s efforts at strengthening national security education in the subjects of Chinese history and history in the following way: “China’s modern history is like a history of humiliation, and it has a warning function by understanding China’s past history of encountering foreign aggression and the foreign scramble for concessions (Wen Wei Po, May 27, 2021, p. A6).” He added that, by infiltrating the element of national security education into various subjects, students’ national identity and national recognition can be enhanced.

Curriculum reform also necessitates the teachers of various subjects to select officially recommended textbooks and references and the local textbook writers to enhance the content that can contribute to stronger Chinese nationalism, national identity and national security. 

Most interestingly, more pro-Beijing organizations have held activities to strengthen the national identity and consciousness of the Hong Kong people. For instance, Dot News organized a forum on May 26 during which a Hong Kong member of the National People’s Congress, Chan Yong, advocated that the Hong Kong government should resume and repair all the historical sites in Hong Kong during the Second World War, including the sites in Sai Kung where renovation and rebuilding work should be conducted. Moreover, these sites can be turned into local museums with the use of 5G technology to enhance the experiences of visitors. A district council member in the Northern district, Wan Wo-tat, suggested that the government should rebuild the traffic facilities of linking urban areas with a statue commemorating the local heroes who fought against the Japanese army in Sha Tau Kok. During the 2019 anti-extradition movement, the statue in Sha Tau Kok was damaged and defaced, but the repair work was done by social groups. As such, the vice-chairman of the Sai Kung Area Committee, Lee Ka-leung, criticized the Hong Kong government for shirking its responsibility of attaching importance to history and repairing historical site (Ta Kung Pao, May 27, 2021, p. A6).

Apart from curriculum reform and organizational activities of lobbying the government to repair and renovate local historical sites, the Education Department is reconsidering the guidelines for teachers to strengthen their professional ethics and conduct. On May 26, Kevin Yeung, the Secretary for Education of the Hong Kong government, responded to the remarks from a fewLegislative Council members, who said the 1990 Guideline of the Hong Kong Education Profession is outdated, and he revealed that his department is reconsidering the possibility of revising the existing guidelines (Wen Wei Po, May 27, 2021, p. A12). Liberal Party member and legislator, Tommy Cheung, requested that the government should review the guideline by adding a new stipulation that teachers should be barred from participating in illegal activities, instigating and organizing students to join such illegal activities, publicizing their political views to students, and showing “radical” views through the Internet. Another legislator, Ronick Chan, suggested that the government should issue an official guideline to combine it with the 1990 Guideline of the Hong Kong Education Profession so that schools and teachers will follow the stipulations more easily. 

Yeung also unveiled that, up to April 2021, the Education Department received 269 cases of complaints about teachers’ professional and ethical conduct. Three of the teachers had their teaching licenses revoked, while 151 others were scolded, formally warned, advised or verbally persuaded. Obviously, amid the process of conducting curriculum reform, the professional conduct of teachers has been under much closer scrutiny than ever before.

In conclusion, Hong Kong has envisaged a three-pronged strategy in response to the national security education as required by the national security law. The first strategy is to undertake curriculum reform of various subjects at the secondary schools, including Chinese history and history subjects. The historical development of the anti-Japanese invasion in the Second World War is stressed. These reforms have been accompanied by new study activities, such as visits to historical sites and the mobilization of students to taste the Tang dynasty’s lifestyle, for the sake of enhancing the Chinese nationalism, national security consciousness and national identity of Hong Kong students. The second strategy is characterized by the activities of pro-Beijing organizations and politicians advocating the repair, renovation, recovery and rejuvenation of local historical sites. The third strategy is adopted by local legislators who lobby the government to revise existing guidelines or introduce official guidelines for teachers so that national security education will be entrenched.