Opinion | Hong Kong's textbook changes should be celebrated, not criticized
By Lee Tsz King Dominic, Michael Lo
In the 25 years since the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, we have seen our city grow and blossom under the "One Country, Two Systems" model. As Hong Kong enters a new era of development, one of the city's key goals is to ensure that stability, prosperity, and opportunity are sustained through the future. Thus, it is vital that the next generation, especially the children educated in Hong Kong's schools, understand Hong Kong's developmental philosophy so that they can contribute to our city in the years to come.
Recently, the Hong Kong Education Bureau released a set of textbooks for a new citizenship class in Hong Kong schools. Replacing the existing Liberal Studies Curriculum, the citizenship syllabus will help children understand the constitutional basis of the HKSAR and its relationship with China. In addition, children will learn about the history of Hong Kong's return to the motherland and develop an appreciation for Chinese culture.
The recent debate regarding these textbooks surrounds their labeling of Hong Kong as a territory with imposed colonial rule rather than a British colony. This question about Hong Kong's historical status has stirred up heated arguments. Without investigating Hong Kong's history, critics jump to the conclusion that these textbooks are pieces of propaganda for our youth. Yet, historical research has shown the veracity of the imposed colonial rule argument.
To open up the Chinese market for the illegal opium trade, British imperialists invaded China in the 19th century. Through their superior military might and their "gunboat diplomacy", the British demanded China to cede the territory of Hong Kong—one of many unequal treaties forced upon China in the "century of humiliation". Like being robbed at gunpoint, China had no option but to comply with British demands.
All Chinese governments following the Qing dynasty do not recognize the one-sided terms of the unequal treaties; thus, China has never given up Hong Kong's sovereignty. Although the British governed Hong Kong under a colonial model, China has never relinquished its sovereignty over Hong Kong. Thus, the label of "colony" implies a fair cession of Hong Kong sovereignty—this was never the case.
American political scientist Chalmers Johnson writes that Hong Kong is a "Chinese city-state that has found it profitable and expedient to sail under a flag of convenience". Hong Kong became the initiator of international business activity, providing a medium for China to open and develop its domestic markets. Like the Cayman Islands or Las Vegas, Hong Kong's de jure status is irrelevant as it fails to recognize its true de facto functions. A student of Hong Kong and China's history will understand that Hong Kong is a city dominated by Chinese people and serving Chinese interests; thus, Hong Kong has always been a sovereign part of China.
Furthermore, critics have pointed out that the new textbooks brainwash students about the events of the 2019 social unrest in Hong Kong. Yet, Hong Kong's progress in recent years has been supported by a stable and safe atmosphere and led by a reformed government. Having witnessed the damage caused by violent protestors in our city, we have learned that poisonous political views incites hatred among Hong Kong youth and villifies the government. We have seen that threats of secession and attempts at subversion have caused grave harm to society. Our youth need to understand that violence, rioting, and vandalism damage citizen livelihood and disrupt a needed peace.
The new textbooks and syllabus will help educate students to develop a patriotic national identity, all of which will help Hong Kong preserve its stability and hasten its progress. It is necessary to promote views of unity and teach children an appreciation of Chinese culture so that they respect Hong Kong as their home and China as their motherland. By teaching our present youth that security creates peace and prosperity, they can better understand how Hong Kong presently operates and so they can use that philosophy to aid the development of our city in the future.
These textbooks are not articles of propaganda forced upon our students. In Hong Kong, the publication of civics textbooks does not mean that all schools have to use those books to teach—schools and teachers can still compile and use independent teaching materials. The textbooks and the accompanying syllabus simply provide a set of guidelines that will support the development of our youth to become respectful, responsible, and patriotic citizens.
As we celebrate 25 years since the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, we must look back and understand that our stability is directly linked to prosperity and opportunity. To ensure that this remains the case for years to come, the most important participants of our future, our current youth, should learn to understand and correctly appreciate our city.
Carroll, John (2007). A Concise History of Hong Kong. Rowman & Littlefield, p. 178.
Johnson, Chalmers (September 1984). "The Mousetrapping of Hong Kong: A Game in Which Nobody Wins". Asian Survey. 24 (9): 887–909.
Wren, Christopher S. (1 October 1982b). "China Calls Hong Kong Pacts Invalid". The New York Times.
Lee Tsz King Dominic is a Co-Convenor of China Retold, a member of the Central Committee of the New People's Party, and a Hong Kong Legislative Council Member.
Michael Lo is a student at New York University and a member of China Retold.
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