Why is Hong Kong so angry about national education?

Hong Kongers are furious over a school curriculum called Moral and National Education (德育及國民教育) (MNE). Why so angry for?

What is national education?
In 2001, Moral and Civic Education (德育及公民教育) was identified as one of four key areas targeted by the Education Bureau for curriculum reform. This was further revised in 2008. In October 2010, the Chief Executive announced that an MNE subject would be introduced to develop students’ moral and national qualities. As a result, in April 2012, the Curriculum Development Council published the MNE curriculum guide, which you can view from here (pdf).

MCE will not be mandatory until 2015, however some primary schools have already begun to teach the subject since the start of the new school year. EDIT (9 Sep): the Hong Kong government has removed the mandatory start date, and it will be up to the school to decide when and how it will teach MCE.

The China Model
The controversy lies in a 32-page Hong Kong National Education Services Centre (國民教育中心) (NESC) publication called “The China Model” (中國模式國情專題教學手冊). The NESC is a government funded body organisation that aims to promote greater awareness in Hong Kong of mainland Chinese culture.

The China Model (中國模式國情專題教學手冊)

“The China Model” is not a compulsory text but is reference material for teachers.  Nonetheless, it is indicative of the type of content that will eventually be taught in MCE, given the Hong Kong government’s ties with the NESC.

Even on a quick read, you will not miss the continuous theme of how the Chinese government has brought to its people great progress and success through its selflessness and unity. Interestingly, it suggests that the systems of the west are socially destabilising and primarily do not serve the interests of its people. It describes how multi-party systems are disastrous for its people, and uses the United States’ inability to at times pass its budgets due to bitter political rivalries as an example of this (occurring 17 times between 1977 and 1996).

Also, it makes references to many significant events of recent history including the Sichuan earthquake of 2008 and the building of the Three Gorges dams, but there is no mention of Tiananmen Square. To be honest, I cringed at much of the content.

Download “The China Model” from here (Chinese only) and read it for yourself.

Hong Kong’s reaction
Not suprisingly, many Hong Kongers are furious at what they see as a brainwashing exercise. Also, in my view, MCE begins to threaten the “one country, two systems” model of social and political freedom that was agreed to prior to Hong Kong’s handover to China.

Hunger strikes and night vigils attended by thousands of students and teachers dressed in black are continuing for the third night outside the government headquarters at Tamar. For continuing updates on the protests movement, check out this Facebook page (我係香港人).

UPDATE (10 Sep): On 7 September 2012, it was estimated that close to 120,000 people took part in the occupation, though official reports cite 36,000. The occupation ended in the morning of 10 September 2012. Check out this Facebook page (Scholarism/學民思潮) and this Facebook page (我係香港人) for further activist news.

No brainwashing is the motto for protestors and hunger strikers (FB group 我係香港人)

The ATV television channel has also come under intense scrutiny over its program “ATV Focus” (ATV 焦點), which labelled members of an anti-national education group as malicious pawns exploited by destructive forces from London and Washington. The show aired on 3 September 2012 and received approximately 10,000 complaints. Watch it here and decide for yourself.

The government has indicated that it will not scrap MCE, but is willing to speak to protestors. The stand off continues.

UPDATE (10 Sep):The government’s backing down on Saturday from mandatory MCE was seen to be damage control just before the elections. Nonetheless, the fiery debate of the last week contributed to an unusually high ballot turnout of 53% at the legislative elections that took place on 9 September 2012 (compare this to 45% turnout in 2008). Results were released today. Forty seats were on offer through geographic constituents. The pan-democrats attracted a higher percentage of the vote, but only managed to narrowly maintain their veto power by picking up 27 of the 70 seats. The pro-establishment parties captured the remaining 43 seats. Years of instability and a poor election strategy contributed to the demise of the established Democratic Party losing three seats bringing their total to six. Albert Ho resigned from his position as Chairman due to the result. In the reverse, the more radical People’s Power Party, the League of Social Democrats and the Neo Democrats picked up five seats. These parties are known for their more confrontational tactics like mass protests and more are predicted in the future as the administration moves to consider the implementation of universal suffrage for 2017. The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), a pro-establishment party, picked up an additional three seats to 13 seats and is the most represented party in the legislature.

More information on the elections from the Wall Street Journal, Forbes and the Hong Kong elections websites.

Featured image courtesy of Manson Wong