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Tuesday, October 27, 2020, 09:54
Hong Kong must remove remnants of ‘colonial education’
By Yang Sheng
Tuesday, October 27, 2020, 09:54 By Yang Sheng

Many people from all walks of life in Hong Kong were shocked to learn that more than 10,000 people had been arrested for various criminal offenses during street violence and riots in the yearlong “black revolution”, disguised as anti-extradition-law amendment-bill protests, and some 40 percent of those arrested were school students. Members of the public and parents of school students in particular now agree Hong Kong’s education system has serious problems that must be identified and fixed as soon as possible. But where should we start?

Years of “colonial education” made many students oblivious to national awareness and weakened their sense of ethnicity as well as knowledge about Chinese history and national conditions. ... Such “inherited flaws” made them susceptible to various Western biases and go astray easily

The root of the problem is sometimes blamed on “enslavement education”, also known as “colonial education”, under 156 years of British rule, which was designed to mold generations of local residents into subservient subjects of the British Crown. To do so, the British Hong Kong administration designed and implemented a completely servile education system focused on marginalizing Chinese culture in favor of Western ideology and values, so as to weaken and even erase the Chinese students’ national, if not ethnic, identity awareness. It also suppressed Chinese patriotism in favor of loyalty to the British Empire as well as Western ideology and values. Gradually, it succeeded in distancing Hong Kong residents of Chinese descent from their ethnic roots in the motherland, to the point that many of them believed they were no longer Chinese.

At the end of the 19th century, then-governor John Pope Hennessy emphasized all government schools must use English as the primary medium of instruction “out of political and commercial necessity”. In 1901, the colonial government minced no words in highlighting the intangible benefits of English teaching in its education report: If ethnic Chinese citizens developed a good impression of the British Empire through English education, the benefits for Britain would significantly outweigh government spending in school education.

The Fisher Report, published in 1951, referred to the establishment of New China and indicated that the British Hong Kong government should seize this opportunity to provide basic education for every child, including religious studies and British ideals and customs.

In the following year, the legislature passed the Education Ordinance, which strictly oversaw everyone at schools, from supervisors to management committee, principals, teachers and students. It stipulated that no salutes, songs, dancing, slogans, uniforms, flags, text or signs with political implications were allowed on campus or other school facilities without written permission from the Education Bureau. The Education Ordinance also forbade students from forming their own unions without the consent of the bureau.

Under such restrictions, patriotic expressions were banned in schools as political activities. Many teachers at government and subsidized schools were reluctant to travel to the Chinese mainland. Some were even afraid to set foot in department stores that specialized in selling products from the mainland. Meanwhile, students were so deeply buried in academic studies, they had little time or energy to learn about their motherland beyond what was in the textbooks.

At the same time, the British Hong Kong government spared no effort in cultivating British ideals and customs among Hong Kong students. In addition to favoring English over Chinese, it also emphasized cognitive development rather than moral education, while seizing every opportunity to immerse students in “Britonization”. For example, in the early 1950s, the Education Bureau required all teachers and students to watch the documentary of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II at cinemas. It also required all schools to celebrate the queen’s wedding. 

Years of “colonial education” made many students oblivious to national awareness and weakened their sense of ethnicity as well as knowledge about Chinese history and national conditions. Some of them still refuse to accept their Chinese nationality even today. Such “inherited flaws” made them susceptible to various Western biases and go astray easily. Some of them became teachers and took to brainwashing students with the same poisonous ideas with which they had been injected. Some even joined the “burn-together faction” and filled their students with separatist ambitions.

It has been 23 years since Hong Kong was reunited with the motherland, yet the remnants of the British “colonial education” are still infecting the minds of many people. The by-effects of this “colonial complex” may take years to cure, but cured it has to be with Chinese national education, or Hong Kong is as doomed as colonialism was. It is time the secretary for education took effective measures to rid Hong Kong’s education system of “colonial diseases” by boosting national education as part of the new normal.

The author is a current affairs commentator. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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