China’s national interest must be considered when Hong Kong formulates education policies, a key adviser to Beijing said, as he gave a stern reminder that the city’s top official in charge of schooling was “under the supervision of the central government”.
Chen Zuoer, head of a semi-official think tank and a former deputy director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said the government should take into account national sovereignty, safety and other interests when it makes education plans, including curriculum design.
He also said a distinct lack of national civic awareness and knowledge of history and culture among Hong Kong’s youth made changes to the city’s education urgently needed.
“Why was the education sector in such a mess during Occupy Central? How have the young men, who were just babies at the handover, become those on the front line who brandished the UK national flag and stormed into our military camps and government?” Chen asked.
“It is clear that there are problems with education in Hong Kong along its development,” he told a forum in Beijing hosted by the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, which he leads, on the political issues of the city’s youth.
“Many people have a distinct lack of national democratic and civic awareness, life goals, and knowledge in geography, history and culture,” he said.
Many young people have been “brainwashed” into supporting Occupy Central, and academics in the field are looking at ways to rectify the problem, Chen said.
Action is urgently needed by the Education Bureau, particularly the Secretary for Education, to meet demands and hopes that have arisen from the situation, he said.
“When we make each policy, like curriculum design and school management, are we considering the realities of Hong Kong? Have we weighed the pros and cons regarding national sovereignty, safety and interests?” he said.
Chen said the secretary for education was “under the supervision of the central government and Hong Kong society at all times”, citing articles 48 and 104 of the Basic Law, which say the official, and other political appointees, have sworn to uphold the Basic Law and swear allegiance to Hong Kong.
“We believe the secretary for education and the education administration as a whole will actively make use of the wealth of resources and correctly guide school sponsoring bodies and consulting groups, along with many other educators, so that they stand loyal to the sacred task of nurturing good inheritors, builders and creators of civic society,” he said.
The remarks came after Rao Geping, a Basic Law Committee member and law professor at Peking University who advised the mainland on Hong Kong affairs, said yesterday that the government should try again to introduce national education into Hong Kong schools, with the emphasis on Chinese culture rather than ideology.
That was despite the government backing down on plans to introduce national education in all schools in the face of massive protests in 2012 by opponents who described it as tantamount to brainwashing.
Also in today’s forum, Chen Duanhong, a law professor at Peking University, suggested that the mainland should create more opportunity for Hong Kong’s youth to take part in “building the country”, including letting young people work as civil servants for the central government or join the volunteer army.
Patrick Ho Chi-ping, Hong Kong’s former Secretary for Home Affairs and now a member of the think tank, said young protesters took to the streets because they found it hard to accept the city’s declining economic status compared to the mainland.
A series of mainland figures have spoken recently of the need for a better understanding of national identity among Hong Kong youngsters.
Zhang Rongshun, vice-chairman of the legislative affairs commission under the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, last month called for Hongkongers to be “re-enlightened” about the Basic Law. He expressed concern that many in the city “cannot find an identity with the country”.
A spokesman for Hong Kong’s Education Bureau said it had been working hard to develop students into citizens with knowledge, responsibility, national identity and world vision since the handover from Britain to China in 1997. He said the bureau would keep working to strengthen students’ understanding about the Basic Law and the “one country, two systems” policy.
But some educators criticised Chen for not respecting the difference of the two systems – as required by President Xi Jinping in a speech in Macau last month – and seeing the city as an enemy instead of trusting it.