(210703) -- HONGKONG, July 3, 2021 (Xinhua) -- Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Carrie Lam (4th R) and other guests attend the opening ceremony of an exhibition on the history and achievements of the Communist Party of China (CPC) to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the CPC, in south China's Hong Kong, July 3, 2021. (Xinhua/Li Gang)

OPINION-The Beginning of Patriotic Education in Hong Kong

The seven-day exhibition of the centennial achievements of the Communist Party of China (CPC) at the Hong Kong Wanchai Convention and Exhibition Center from July 3 to 9, immediately after the celebration of the CPC’s centennial anniversary in Beijing on July 1, has marked the beginning of patriotic education in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR).

The exhibition was co-organized by the Bauhinia Cultural Consortium and the National Museum of China with the collaboration from the Hong Kong Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau, the Bauhinia Magazine and the Hong Kong Wen Wei Ta Kung Media Group.

The content of the exhibition was divided into two main parts: the first one covering the history of China and the rise of the CPC as well as its recent achievements; and the second one focusing on the scientific progress and achievements of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Many schools organized students to visit the exhibition on China’s scientific progress and achievements, while many individual citizens and groups went into the exhibition hall that depicted China’s turbulent history and the rise of the CPC, including the heroic Dongjiang guerillas that fought against the Japanese invaders in South China during the Second World War.

Several characteristics of the exhibition could be observed. First and foremost, the history of China and its recent scientific and economic achievements were depicted not only in the format of descriptive bulletin boards but also in the form of Virtual Reality. Models of airplanes, tanks and aircraft carriers were shown to attract the young audience. Second, patriotic groups were mobilized to visit the exhibition, leading to the report of the organizers that the seven-day exhibition attracted 62,500 citizens. Third, the content of the exhibition can be turned into textbook and references easily, as advocated by some patriotic elites, so that the school children in the HKSAR will be able to understand the history of China, the CPC’s rise and the PRC’s achievements in a more in-depth and comprehensive manner. Fourth, at least 80 Hong Kong scouts and the Hong Kong Army Cadets aged between eight to twenty were mobilized every day to act as tour guides and demonstrators, explaining to the visitors the content of the various bulletin boards. As such, the exhibition served the purpose of educating the young people of Hong Kong on the history of China, the CPC and the PRC. Fifth, an important highlight of the exhibition was a detailed historical account of foreign invasion into China during the Qing dynasty and all the related indemnities involved – a detailed account that attracted a lot of visitors to take photographs. Sixth, the rise of the CPC was depicted comprehensively, including the repeated television coverage of Chairman Mao Zedong’s remarks in Tiananmen rostrum that the Chinese people stood up on October 1, 1949. 

It remains to be seen whether any museum at the West Kowloon Cultural District will perhaps imitate this large-scale exhibition in the future, but the extent of historical details as shown in the seven-day exhibition was, objectively speaking, unprecedented and impressive in the education history of the HKSAR.

Most importantly, the exhibition was accompanied by other activities to foster patriotic education in Hong Kong.

First, patriotic groups led by the Solidarity Force of Loving China and Protecting Hong Kong, together with some alumni of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, organized a series of national education activities on July 9 until the end of November. The activities include the mobilization of school children to sing the PRC national anthem, and to participate in the creative artwork and quizzes. It is expected that 600,000 school children will be mobilized to participate in these national education activities. The honorary chairman of the organizer, Yuan Mo, said that the education sector, the business, youth groups and patriotic organizations actively supported and participated in the “engineering” activities, which aimed at “promoting positivism, calling upon the young generation and recollecting Hong Kong’s momentum (Ta Kung Pao, July 10, 2021, p. A8).

Second, curriculum reform is accompanying the national education activities so that patriotism will be instilled into the psyche of more young people. In early July, the Education Bureau issued two teaching briefs on “Hong Kong under ‘one country, two systems.’” The teaching materials covered two important aspects: the HKSAR’s political system and the spirit of the rule of law.

In the curriculum concerning Hong Kong’s political system, six main points are emphasized. First, students must understand that the decision power of the HKSAR political system stems from the central government (Wen Wei Po, July 9, 2021, p. A7). Second, the Chief Executive of the HKSAR must be accountable to the central people’s government and the HKSAR in accordance with the Basic Law. Third, the HKSAR political system is characterized by its executive-led nature, the mutual checks and coordination between the executive and legislative branches, and judicial independence. Fourth, students must understand the duties and operation of the following leaders and institutions: the Chief Justice, the Chief Secretary for Administration, the Financial Secretary and their related government departments; the composition and the duties of the legislature; and the composition and duties of the judiciary. Fifth, students need to understand the principle and realization of “patriots governing Hong Kong,” the oath-taking of the Chief Executive and civil servants, and the National Security Law’s stipulation on “patriots governing Hong Kong.” Sixth, students should build up the value of loving and cherishing Hong Kong, respecting and protecting the HKSAR political system under “one country, two systems,” and recognizing their national identity. 

Clearly, the emphasized features in the curriculum on Hong Kong’s political system, patriotic education and national identity are injected into the teaching pedagogy so that both teachers and students will understand their proper role in the society and politics of Hong Kong.

Regarding the curriculum on the spirit of the rule of law, five points are emphasized. First, students should understand the content of the rule of law and its spirit, including the respect of the authority of the law; the precondition of obeying the law; the support of judicial independence; and the upholding of the principles of equality before the law, fair trial, procedural due process, and the transparency and stability of law. Second, students should understand the important meaning of protecting the rule of law spirit, including the protection of human rights as an important element. Nevertheless, students have to understand that human rights are not without limits; one cannot affect the human rights of another person and one cannot affect social order and national security. If there are contradictions, individual freedom must be constrained by the law. Third, students need to realize that the protection of the rule of law is Hong Kong’s common value, thereby facilitating the establishment of good order, social stability and the foundation of Hong Kong’s society and China’s national development. Fourth, students should, through the court verdicts of the Court of Final Appeal, “correctly understand that whatever demands they request, any violent and illegal act must violate the spirit of the rule of law.” Fifth, students should understand that the judicial branches do not face any interference in its process of adjudication and that “the HKSAR enjoys independent judicial power and the power of final adjudication.” 

Obviously, the revamped curriculum guide seeks to rectify the previously “distorted” societal interpretations over the meanings of the rule of law and judicial independence in Hong Kong.

On July 10, Chief Executive Carrie Lam attended a high-level forum on patriotic education. She remarked that patriotic education was “stigmatized” in the past, and that “all societal sectors must implement patriotism education, promote the spirit of patriotism, and correct the values of the young people (www.hk01.com, July 10, 2021).” She added that loving the country is natural and necessary, while rebelling against the country is by no means acceptable. Lam pointed to the lack of systematic patriotic education in the HKSAR in the past, and she deplored the media distortion of the need for patriotic education. The Chief Executive also revealed that the Chinese history subject will become a compulsory subject in schools – a correct path away from the distorted development in the past when Chinese history was regarded only as an elective for senior secondary school children.

In conclusion, together with the ongoing curriculum reforms, including the replacement of the much criticized Liberal Studies subject with the Citizenship and Social Development Studies, and the requirement that Chinese History as a subject will be compulsory, all the recent and ongoing national education activities – ranging from large-scale exhibitions to the mobilization of students in singing the national anthem and attending quizzes related to Chinese history and culture – aim at reviving, reactivating and rejuvenating patriotic education in the HKSAR. The formal inception of patriotic education is the prominent feature of re-stabilizing Hong Kong after the promulgation of the national security law in late June 2020. A decade later, the young people of Hong Kong will undoubtedly become far more patriotic than their earlier generation.