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China nationalises Hong Kong, one school at a time

November 11th, 2021
topics: Democracy
by: Sasha Kong
located in: China
tags: Communist Party of China, education, Hong Kong

When the blood-red flag with five yellow stars flies in the air and the familiar melody blasts in her ears, the high school teacher in Hong Kong cannot muster any of the patriotic thoughts or emotions that the city’s authorities are trying to instill into its people.

Kaitlin Cheung, who chose to stay anonymous due to the sensitive content discussed, stands up robotically each morning in the classroom when this daily ritual takes place. She knows she is supposed to lead her students to sing the national anthem, but instead, they simply look at one another in defiant silence. 

Nationalising the education system

“We teachers have already been warned. If there are any ‘problematic’ students, we need to take them outside of our classrooms immediately,” Cheung told FairPlanet and shrugged.

Cheung’s pro-Beijing school has adopted the new policy of raising the national flag and singing the national anthem each school week for a few months. Starting from the beginning of 2022, all public schools in the city will be mandated to do that each school week, as opposed to about once a year on special school occasions. 

According to a statement by Hong Kong's authorities, the new law will help “create a peaceful and orderly school environment and atmosphere, deepen students’ understanding of the country’s development and national security, as well as enhance students’ sense of national identity." 

“If you ask me, this new law is not going to serve its purpose at all," the school teacher said, sighing. "To students this is yet another meaningless ritual - they are likely to have a blank mind when the flag is raised and the national anthem is played.Do you think students will grow more patriotic by listening to the national anthem a thousand times?” 

The new measure is part of the controversial national anthem law that criminalises any acts officials deem a “misuse” or “insult” to China’s March of the Volunteers. Offenders are subject to at most HK$50,000 (US$6,423.5) and three years of imprisonment. This comes after several incidents of football fans in the city booing when the Chinese national anthem was played at games. 

“People’s right to express their feelings about the national anthems and other state symbols is well protected by international human rights law. This law’s broad and subjective provisions leave it open to wide interpretation and abuse,” Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for East and Southeast Asia, Joshua Rosenzweig, said in a statement

China tightens its grip on Hong Kong

This follows China’s tightening grip on the city, which was roiled by the largest pro-democracy movement in its history since 2019 that eventually led to Beijing’s decision to implement the national security law in June last year. Under the law, any act considered by the government to be subversive, secessionist, terrorist or indicative of collusion with foreign forces is subject to life imprisonment. 

It is widely seen as part of a bigger scheme of the controversial national education campaign that critics fear will be yet another iteration of China’s brainwashing tool to manipulate the city’s youth and suppress opposition voices. 

National education has been immersed in public schools’ curriculum and focuses on national security and identity, as well as lawfulness and patriotism. 

An opinion piece on China’s state media said that such education “has been consistently vilified” by pro-democracy activists, who are said to bring “lasting damage to the moral upbringing of a generation.” The writer advocated stressing on national education in Hong Kong.

The new immersive national education curriculum has three key themes, two of which include China’s development and Hong Kong's 'One Country, Two Systems' framework, which is an agreement between Britain and China to keep Hong Kong’s capitalist and democratic system unchanged for 50 years after the 1997 handover. 

“In teaching proposals, we have to write about how our teaching will include cultivating students’ national sentiment,” Cheung confirmed.

In practice, Cheung said she did not deliberately immerse any national education in the subject she is currently teaching, and even used the speech of a now-detained pro-democracy activist’s speech in her teaching materials. 

“I included that because it makes sense,” she added. 

Many families in Hong Kong left the city to avoid the burgeoning national education and the political crackdown on activists. Cheung plans to stay, but said she will make sure to teach her children critical thinking and have the right kind of education. 

Image by Alejandro Luengo.

Article written by:
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Sasha Kong
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Students hold Chinese national flags during a flag-raising ceremony to mark the 24th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule at Pui Kiu Middle School in Hong Kong, China.
© Paul Yeung/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Members of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) honour guard stand under a Chinese national flag during a ceremony in Hong Kong, China.
© Paul Yeung/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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