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Tuesday, May 12, 2020, 00:57
The three ‘poisons’ that corrode young people’s minds
By Ho Lok-sang
Tuesday, May 12, 2020, 00:57 By Ho Lok-sang

Last week, I read a column by veteran commentator Lo Wing-hung. He wrote that the “pro-democracy movement” had gone astray under the influence of two “poisons”: violence and seeking support from the United States. More basic to these two “poisons”, however, is a third: misinformation and miseducation leading to lopsided thinking, a subject I discussed last week.

Lo cited a survey that found although more than half of those sampled (55 percent) value “democracy” and “freedom” more, 45 percent value “stability and economic development” more. Lo noted that even though fewer respondents in the survey chose stability and development over democracy, the “pro-democracy” camp should not dismiss the aspirations of these fellow citizens.

Lo has no objection to people seeking “more democratic” elections, whatever that means. But he objected to the two “poisons”: the first is violence; the second is seeking American support. Both will only undermine Hong Kong people’s collective interests.

He noted that the adoption of violence as a tactic in the struggle for greater democracy began with the “Occupy Central” movement of 2014. Inspired by Prof Benny Tai Yiu-ting of the University of Hong Kong, more and more people began to believe that violating the law and hurting other people is fine as long as the goal is noble. Indeed, Tai coined the term “Achieving justice through violating the law”. I have written about his warped logic in justifying the “Occupy” campaign, and warned that the cost to society would go far beyond the economic costs during “Occupy”. The occupiers were supposed to have all pledged to strictly follow the “peace and love” protocol, including agreeing to be rounded up by police without resistance. But in fact few people paid any attention to this. The long-term implications of Hong Kong slipping away from the rule of law will be ugly. Today, the seeds of defiance against the rule of law have been planted. Last year’s fugitive law amendment bill lit the tinder which started the fire, and Hong Kong’s nightmare began.

Lo wrote that the second “poison” is seeking American support. From the trade war to America’s ban on Huawei and other Chinese tech companies, it should be clear to any objective observer that the United States now sees China not only a rival but also the arch enemy. Against this background, asking the US to sanction Hong Kong SAR officials and to take away Hong Kong’s current status in its trade with the US is totally unacceptable.

While it is indeed educational for students to be exposed to different viewpoints, it is altogether a different matter if the second viewpoint attributed to a famous historian was entirely made up

But these two “poisons” are grounded on an even more sinister poison: disinformation and miseducation that plant the seeds of hatred among our youngsters against the motherland. Last week, I referred to the incident in which a primary school teacher distorted history to portray Britain as the savior of opium addicts in China during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), trying to fight the corrupt Qing Dynasty demanding that it not poison its people with the addictive substance, saying this was the cause of the Opium War. It is hard to believe this was a “mindless mistake”. Because it is very difficult to know what a teacher says in the classroom, one would legitimately worry that what surfaced was just the tip of the iceberg.

Another incident has also come to light over the past few days. It concerns the contents of a textbook, which purportedly offered two different views on the Qing officials’ policy decisions in handling opium trade. Lawmaker and founding member of the Democratic Party, Ip Kin-yuen, wrote in Ming Pao that the criticism on the textbook was unwarranted and politically inspired, as students should be exposed to different viewpoints and encouraged to form their own judgments.

While it is indeed educational for students to be exposed to different viewpoints, it is altogether a different matter if the second viewpoint attributed to a famous historian was entirely made up. The textbook claimed that historian Jonathan Spence wrote in his book, The Search for Modern China: “(Imperial commissioner) Lin Zexu … failed to understand the trade issues facing Britain, and failed to consider the huge impact that banning opium trade would have on Sino-British relations. Because of this, he made a rash decision and banned opium. This unwise decision led to the Opium War.” (translated from the Chinese text in the textbook)

To put it mildly, the “quotation” is misinformation, because nowhere can such a statement be found in Spence’s book. Making up and attributing a quote to Spence is unethical and certainly not educational. It is poison.

What is more disturbing is that the book had been inspected by the Education Bureau and was approved as a textbook. If the author made up the quotation and attributed it to Spence, that is unethical. If he honestly thought Spence had written something like that and made the mistake because of carelessness, he is unprofessional. If the Education Bureau officials in charge of inspecting and approving textbooks overlooked the matter by mistake, that is low-quality work and not acceptable. Ip argued that the objection to the textbook is politically inspired. It is regrettable that he did not check the facts before he made this inflammatory remark.

The author is a senior research fellow at Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Policy Research Institute, Lingnan University.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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