Aerial photo taken on March 6, 2021 shows citizens displaying China's national flag and the flag of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in support of implementing the principle of "patriots administering Hong Kong" at Tamar Park in Hong Kong, south China. (Xinhua/Li Gang)

OPINION-Patriotism and the New Subject of Citizenship and Social Development in Hong Kong

A careful reading of the new curriculum guideline of a new subject, namely Citizenship and Social Development, which was derived and evolved from the old Liberal Studies, shows that Chinese patriotism has already been injected into its content and that Hong Kong teachers and students are increasingly expected to increase their patriotic sentiment in the coming years.

On June 2, the Education Department Bureau (EDB) issued the curriculum and assessment guideline for the new subject of Citizenship and Social Development. The objective of the guideline is to stress “the respect of multicultural perspectives and views so that students can think carefully and distinguish matters clearly, engage in thinking rationally, reflectively and independently” (Wen Wei Po, June 3, 2021, p. A6). This objective is different in emphasis from the old objective of the Liberal Studies subject, which originally aimed at not only “respecting multicultural perspectives and views” but also training students to “become critical, reflective and independent thinking persons.” While the old Liberal Studies emphasized the “critical” ability of students, the newly reformed Citizenship and Social Development lay the emphasis on the need for students to think carefully” and “distinguish matters clearly” without just adopting a “critical” attitude. 

Other differences between the new subject, Citizenship and Social Development, and the old subject of Liberal Studies embrace three aspects. First, while the new subject of Citizenship and Social Development trains students “to adopt multiple perspectives and angles to ponder contemporary topics “which are already developed in a mature way,” the old Liberal Studies encouraged students to adopt multiple angles to think about “currently emergent topics such as culture, society, economics politics and technology.” Obviously, the new Citizenship and Social Development does not encourage students to deal with those current issues that are evolving politically whereas the old Liberal Studies subject allowed considerable discretion to teacher and students to explore presently developing topics, including political and controversial issues. The new Citizenship and Social Development subject appears to depoliticize the curriculum, minimizing the possibility of teachers and students to cover ongoing and politically controversial and sensitive topics.

Second, the Citizenship and Social Development subject aims at training students to “comprehend the complexity of topics, the challenges of decision-making processes so that they can come up with rational and legal analyses and learn to cope with mutually conflicting values.” The old Liberal Studies curriculum did not stress the students to “comprehend the complexity of topics and the challenges of decision-making processes.” Clearly, the new Citizenship and Social Development subject encourages both teachers and students to be more “objective” and “holistic” in coping with the governmental decision-making processes and issues that illustrate the clashes of cultural and political values. If Liberal Studies epitomizes a bias in favor of Western liberalism, then Citizenship and Social Development embraces more non-Western ideas and the Chinese perspectives, including an appreciation of the clashes of Chinese and Western civilizations and values.

Third, while the old Liberal Studies did not emphasize the element of Chinese culture and identity, the new Citizenship and Social Development subject explicitly aims at educating students to “simultaneously appreciate, appreciate and accept different cultures and viewpoints and to deepen their individual understanding and identification with the Chinese cultural tradition, Chinese nationality and Chinese national identity.” Clearly, the education reformers in Hong Kong have believed that the Liberal Studies subject, which just trained students to be “critical” without appreciating the Chinese cultural tradition and national identity, was a relatively “unpatriotic” curriculum design that must be rectified in the new curriculum.

The Secretary for Education, Kevin Yeung, said on June 2 that the government would give a subsidy of HK$900,000 to each public and directly subsidized secondary school to provide the necessary logistical support for the related pedagogical and learning activities. Such activities would include ten hours of inspection visits to the mainland, the buying of teaching equipment and facilities, the organization of school-based, joint schools and cross-subject activities.

Hong Kong Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung

Secondary schools are dealing with the new subject of Citizenship and Social Development by redeploying the existing teaching resources and manpower. Moreover, the governmental subsidies to secondary schools include e-learning facilities and activities, the reference books, and the exchange programs to the mainland. However, the utilization of subsidies cannot be overlapped by asking for the government to subsidize the same project items more than once.

Judging from the guideline on the new curriculum, the ingredient of Chinese patriotism has been enhanced. The topic of Hong Kong under “one country, two systems” needs to stress that Hong Kong from ancient time has remained a Chinese territory, with its sovereignty and administration being possessed by China. For the topic on the balance between the national security law on the one hand and the rule of law and human rights on the other, the guideline says that the national security law “has no impact on Hong Kong’s rule of law and the rights enjoyed by the Hong Kong residents in accordance with the law.” On the topic of the relations between the executive, legislature and judiciary, the guideline stipulates that the three branches have their own duties and positions and that they are complimentary to each other. On the topic of interdependence in the contemporary world, the guideline says that China’s contributions to the anti-Covid19 efforts and its production of vaccines must be examined. Finally, on the topic of the Chinese nation after the open-door policy, the mutually economically beneficial relations of the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement must be supplemented. In short, the inseparable mainland relations with Hong Kong, and the important contributions of China to both Hong Kong and the world must be taught and emphasized in the new subject of Citizenship and Social Development.

The EDB has already sent its guideline to the publishers concerned so that the writers of textbooks and reference books will take into consideration how to write up or come up with appropriate reading materials. It is expected that the textbooks for form four and form five will be published in 2022 so that secondary schools will use these materials in the academic year of 2022-2023.

In response to the new guideline of Citizenship and Social Development, the vice-chairman of the Federation of Education Workers Mr. Tang Fei remarked that while Liberal Studies in the past lacked a holistic approach to educating students on mainland China, the new subject can adopt a more comprehensive approach by connecting the “one country, two systems” with the Basic Law, the national development and the relationships between the Chinese nation and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR). Tang believed that the new subject is “more systematic” and tackling “the whole journey of learning process logically.” He suggested that the government should consider either adjusting the annual subsidy to each secondary school upward after one year of implementation or institutionalizing such subsidy in the future.

The vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Liberal Studies Education Society, Lee Wai-hung, said that the Liberal Studies subject which emphasized too much on the “critical” attitude of students created lots of problems (Wen Wei Po, June 3, 2021, p. A6). Nevertheless, the new subject can strengthen the elements of “law, emotion and reasons.” In this way, the new curriculum can teach students on the legal foundation appropriately to avoid not only anyone spreading “the distorted theory of’ ‘violating the law to achieve justice,’” but also an arbitrary way of interpretating the “one country, two systems.” Lee added that the new subject’s guideline correctly reminds teachers of the need to carefully select and use the Internet sources and media materials. This would avoid some teachers to utilize materials that “distorted the facts.” He felt that the mainland visits would be important to the local students, who in the past had to be persuaded hard by school authorities to visit the mainland to widen their horizon and deepen their understanding of the motherland. 

Hence, the patriotic education elites in the HKSAR are supportive of the new subject’s emphases and remain critical of the Liberal Studies subject’s “distorted” curriculum design, pedagogy and objectives.

On the same day of June 2, China’s Ministry of Education published a report on the life and development of language in the Greater Bay Area (GBA). The report advocates that Hong Kong’s education system should integrate Putonghua into the examination assessment system. It says that the people of Hong Kong should be knowledgeable about simplified Chinese characters so that more Hong Kong people would be able to “acquire the train ticket to the world and the mainland’s fast economic train.” As the HKSAR and Macau are incorporated into the Chinese national plan of integration with the GBA, the popularization of Putonghua and its integration into the Hong Kong examination system are only a matter of time.

Overall, the replacement of the old Liberal Studies subject with the new Citizenship and Social Development was a significant move by the HKSAR government to start inculcating Chinese patriotism into the psyche of the Hong Kong youth. This Chinese patriotism is made explicit in the most recently published guideline of Citizenship and Social Development. Together with the anticipated and accelerated integration of Putonghua into the Hong Kong examination system, the education system and curriculum of Hong Kong have been undergoing rapid reforms to strengthen the element of Chinese patriotism. By 2047, most people of Hong Kong will likely become far more politically patriotic than the current generation.