Opinion | Policy Address: Focus on patriotic education benefits city and country
By Grenville Cross
On July 1, 2022, when President Xi Jinping visited the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region for its 25th anniversary, he emphasized his commitment to the future of its "one country, two systems" governing policy. He hoped the policy would keep "advancing in the right direction", and emphasized that it was "an integral whole". This meant that upholding China's sovereignty, security and development was "the paramount principle in the policy of 'one country, two systems'".
President Xi's address was also memorable for the emphasis it placed on the role of young people in the overall scheme of things. He explained that "when the young people thrive, Hong Kong thrives", and that "when the young people grow, Hong Kong grows". He said that "where there is a future for the young people, there is a future for Hong Kong", and pointed out the need to "heighten their sense of national pride and ownership".
This message was welcome, not least because, largely as a result of deficient educational policies dating back to the British era, many local people know little about their motherland, let alone its history and achievements. This situation suited China-hostile elements down to the ground, as it enabled them to prey on the gullible. In 2012, therefore, when the HKSAR government tried to put things right by proposing moral and national instruction in the schools, they reacted with fury, organizing ugly protests, and the plans were unfortunately shelved.
Consequently, anti-China forces were able to recruit naive youngsters into their ranks and, having radicalized them, they bent them to their will. In the years following the reunification, it was by no means uncommon for young people in educational institutions to be misled over China's past (including over responsibility for the Opium Wars), and their gullibility was ruthlessly exploited. Much of the media also fed youngsters (and others) a diet of foreign propaganda, and the consequences were sometimes tragic, for themselves and society.
In 2014, many young people were encouraged to occupy the city's streets, and then, in 2019, they were enlisted into an insurrection designed to cripple "one country, two systems" and weaken China. All too often, following years of indoctrination, they knew no better, and the lives of too many of them have, sadly, been blighted. Whereas some have been convicted of criminal offenses, others have fled into lonely exile. The lives of future generations must be protected from a similar fate.
It was, therefore, heartening that, when the chief executive, John Lee Ka-chiu, unveiled his Policy Address on Wednesday, he prioritized patriotic education, indicating it would be strengthened. Apart from school education, he said efforts would be made generally to enhance public awareness of the importance of safeguarding national security, including through the National Security Education Day, held annually on April 15. (This year, on April 15, 60,000 thematic books were distributed in the schools, while animations, television programs and exhibitions were conducted throughout Hong Kong to educate residents.) The strategy will include opening an exhibition gallery, preparing teaching materials, and providing training for district-based tutors to promote communitywide national security appreciation.
Although the idea of introducing patriotic education in the schools was abandoned in 2012, Lee placed it at the forefront of his address, identifying concrete initiatives. He said it would be integrated into the education system, and that the Constitution and Basic Law Promotion Steering Committee, led by the chief secretary for administration, Eric Chan Kwok-ki, would widen its mandate to embrace patriotic education. This will be achieved by the creation of a Working Group on Patriotic Education, which will, by coordinating the work of government departments and NGOs, not only take national education forward, but also dovetail it with the country's Patriotic Education Law. This initiative will undoubtedly enhance understanding of China's history, culture and current affairs. This, in turn, will promote patriotism in both the short and long term, something that has been sorely lacking in recent times, particularly in the schools and other seats of learning.
This heightened emphasis on patriotic education will, Lee explained, "enhance national identity and appreciation of the richness and beauty of the traditional Chinese culture among the people of Hong Kong", something that is long overdue.
Buttressing these initiatives will be the establishment of a Chinese Culture Promotion Office by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. It will promote Chinese culture and history, and a Chinese Culture Festival is planned, starting in 2024. Also to be created is a museum that showcases China's development and successes, including its history, politics, economic development and culture, and these measures will clearly benefit people of all ages, dispel myths, and broaden horizons.
Greater prominence, moreover, will be accorded to the history of the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45) at the Museum of Coastal Defence. This, said Lee, will help to "cultivate a stronger sense of national esteem and patriotism". Allied to this is the plan to collaborate with the Shenzhen Municipal Cultural Relics Bureau in the organization of exhibitions that introduce the joint efforts made by Hong Kong and Shenzhen in the War of Resistance, about which many local people know very little, if anything.
What Lee has announced, therefore, is a comprehensive plan of action, supported by detailed proposals, to raise people's appreciation of national perspectives, and this can only strengthen society.
There are approximately 593 primary schools in Hong Kong, and the students will soon be spoiled for choice when it comes to visiting cultural centers. Teachers and parents alike will, therefore, be responsible for ensuring they receive maximum exposure to what is on offer. This will help to equip them with the knowledge they require to avoid the pitfalls of the past and develop into responsible citizens. It will also ensure that the dark days of 2019-20, when even very young people, brainwashed by China-haters and foreign agents, indulged in secessionist activities and black violence, never return.
In July, President Xi told the students of Hong Kong's Pui Kiu Middle School that patriotism is the core of the spirit of the Chinese nation; and Lee's measures will help to reinforce that message. Xi encouraged the students to broaden their perspectives on life, saying this could be done by studying global trends, considering China's history, culture and current affairs, and strengthening their sense of belonging to the country. He wanted them to contribute not only to a better Hong Kong but also to advance national rejuvenation. If they are to achieve this, they need to acquire the patriotic consciousness that Lee is now seeking to instill in them.
Therefore, from this school year, Lee announced a three-pronged strategy to advance Xi's agenda.
It involves, first, strengthening teacher training through, for example, mainland study tours, national security programs, and updates on national developments.
Second, the strategy envisages an increased focus on national affairs education. The Education Bureau will, for example, be publishing a Humanities Curriculum Framework for the primary schools, strengthening training for Constitution and Basic Law Student Ambassadors, and enriching the Values Education Curriculum Framework in a way that enhances understanding of Chinese culture, history and geography, as well as national security.
Third, the strategy will involve "diversified learning experiences", and the Education Bureau will be launching a series of "Love Our Home, Treasure Our Country 2.0" interschool national-education activities. These are intended not only to widen student horizons, but also to promote constructive liaison among the schools.
Although there will be those who fear that the Policy Address places too much emphasis upon patriotic education, Hong Kong still faces existential threats. There are still people around who want to weaken Hong Kong and thwart China's national resurgence, and protections are vital. Any gaps in the city's defensive armor will undoubtedly be exploited, and it is vital that young people are not only aware of the threats but also understand what motivates those who wish to harm their city and undermine their country.
Indeed, when the director of the Hong Kong and Macao Work Office of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, Xia Baolong, spoke at this year's National Security Education Day, he spelled things out in unequivocal terms. He said, "While Hong Kong may appear to be peaceful and calm, there are indeed undercurrents — the root causes for 'chaos' have not yet been eliminated, and the foundation of 'orderly governance' needs to be fortified." Never again must Hong Kong be caught off guard, as it was in 2019, and patriotic education for people of all ages must be seen as an essential element of its defensive strategy.
It follows, therefore, that Lee should be applauded not only for prioritizing patriotic education, but also for announcing that Hong Kong's obligation to legislate according to Article 23 of the Basic Law will be discharged in 2024.
Although everybody will benefit once these processes are complete, it is the younger generation that will gain the most, and Lee, echoing Xi, placed a considerable focus on their betterment. He said he wanted students to receive "quality education", and hoped to see young people "fully realize their potential". His proposals, therefore, radical as they are, are a significant step in the right direction. They will equip young people for the challenges of the future, and this will strengthen Hong Kong and the country.
The author is a senior counsel and law professor, and was previously the director of public prosecutions of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
The article was first published in China Daily.