hong kong — As Hong Kong prepares to mark the 15th anniversary of its return to Chinese rule with celebratory fireworks and also angry street protests, Cheung Kwok-wah, a senior education bureau official, is grappling with a particularly sensitive task: how to teach students in this former British colony to identify more with China.
“It is not an easy issue,” acknowledged Cheung, whose efforts to develop a new school curriculum to promote greater awareness of and identification with the “motherland” have stirred howls of protest from educators, the Roman Catholic Church and pro-democracy activists fearful of Communist Party “brainwashing.”
(Bobby Yip/Reuters) - Guard of Honor of the People’s Liberation Army of China performs during the rehearsal of the International Military Tattoo in Hong Kong, as part of celebrations ahead of the 15th anniversary of the territory's handover to Chinese rule on July 1.
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Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997, under a formula known as “one country, two systems” and has retained wide-ranging liberties that make it China’s freest city by far. While few here mourn the end of British colonialism, Hong Kong and Beijing have starkly different views of what it means to be part of China.
The gulf will be on display beginning on Friday when Communist Party leader Hu Jintao is due to make a tightly choreographed and heavily policed visit to attend anniversary festivities and the swearing in on Sunday of Leung Chun-ying, a prosperous land surveyor, as Hong Kong’s new leader, or chief executive — and tens of thousands of locals are expected to take to the street in protest.
Though increasingly intertwined economically with the rest of China, Hong Kong, according to a recent opinion poll, now has less trust in the central government in Beijing than at any time since the 1997 handover. Suspicion runs so deep that when Chinese military vehicles were sighted earlier this month on busy streets during a routine rotation of forces, local newspapers and Internet sites responded with warnings that Beijing is moving in extra muscle to confront protesters in the event of trouble during Hu’s visit. A spokesman for the People’s Liberation Army dismissed this as “rubbish.” Hong Kong’s head of security assured residents that local police are responsible for law and order and do not need help from the PLA.
Mood of mistrust
This mood of mistrust has also engulfed plans by the education bureau to introduce mandatory courses in schools on “moral and national education.” First proposed in 2010 and due to include lessons on Chinese government bodies and the correct etiquette for raising the national flag, the program ran into a storm of criticism during public consultations and was recently revised to give teachers more leeway on what topics they cover. Originally due to start in some schools later this year, the courses have now been put off for a year.
“The Communist Party puts an equal sign between itself and China,” said Fung Wai Wah, president of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, which opposes “national education” teaching. Fung said he identifies with China but not its ruling Communist Party, whose rule his parents — like many other residents here — fled to Hong Kong to escape. “We suspect they are trying to brainwash our students,” he said, noting that the Party frequently deploys nationalism to silence critics.