Published: 09:00, June 16, 2020 | Updated: 00:28, June 6, 2023
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Can politics be brought into our school campuses in HK?
By Ho Lok-sang

The Hong Kong Association of Heads of Secondary Schools (HKAHSS) took issue with Secretary of Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung’s plea not to bring politics into our school campuses. The chairman of HKAHSS, Tang Chun-keung, citing Dr Sun Yat-sen, said, “Politics is everybody’s business.” He asked us not to worry about students being interested in politics.

In a letter to schools, the secretary of education said schools should stop students when they shout slogans, sing songs with a clear political message, form human chains, demand suspension of classes, distribute propaganda, etc.

In my view, both Mr Tang and Mr Yeung are right. It is fine if students are interested in politics, and it is not right to spread political propaganda. Political propaganda and activities that aim at subverting the social and political order which forms the foundation of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, in particular, should be banned.

Why is the song I Love the Basic Law acceptable, but a song that calls for subverting the social and political order not? The reason should be obvious. The Basic Law protects the rights of all Hong Kong people and makes the “one country, two systems” principle possible. Of course it should be treasured. If we dump the Basic Law, “one country, two systems” will collapse, and many people’s livelihoods will be ruined. Our schools should nurture new generations of graduates who will help build a better future for Hong Kong. We just cannot afford to lose peace and order.

In principle, I agree we have to accept that our students are interested in politics. It will be counterproductive to ban all political discourse from our campuses.However, educators must nurture an open, inquisitive mind. They must not brainwash their students with one and only one narrative on any subject

If some students somehow believe in dumping the Basic Law and forming a separate “state of Hong Kong” as an option, all responsible educators need to have a good discussion with them. They need to listen to their views patiently, explain to them why any attempt for secession will only lead to a tragic outcome, and that no one in Hong Kong will stand to benefit, except those countries that want to dominate the world and subvert the rise of China.

What I am unhappy about is that many teachers and professors romanticize “RESIST” (kang zheng) and they coined the term: “violate the law and achieve justice.” They rarely introduce their students to alternative views and analyses.

 This is perhaps not surprising, as Hong Kong’s biggest trade union of teachers, the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, which claims some 90,000 members, offers just one narrative. The HKPTU’s website does not offer any critical discussions about electoral democracy, such as that of Jane Mansbridge (Beyond Adversary Democracy) and Jason Brennan (The Ethics of Voting and Against Democracy). It does not encourage teachers or students to explore the meaning of democracy and the dimensions of a government’s performance. It would refer to the Chinese mainland as successful economically but ignores China’s achievements in environmental preservation, social security, poverty alleviation, and advances in the rule of law.

When teachers sell their favourite brand of democracy as the ideal form of government without questioning, they are spreading political propaganda. Readers may like to visit the website of HKPTU and look at what is available for downloading. Readers may look at the list of guest speakers that the HKPTU invited to its forums.

I am most disturbed when I discovered that some teachers actually posted hate speech on social media, took part personally in protests, and even resorted to violence.

One headline in a South China Morning Post report read: “Teacher from well-known Hong Kong school among four arrested in public hospitals after clashes with police at anti-extradition protests.” It turned out the teacher was responsible for liberal studies. Another liberal arts teacher who chaired the liberal arts subject committee under the HK Examinations and Assessment Authority and served as external vice-chairperson of the Hong Kong Liberal Studies Teachers’ Association had posted a message “Death to black cops and all their families” on Facebook. They have set a very bad example for their students.

In principle, I agree we have to accept that our students are interested in politics. It will be counterproductive to ban all political discourse from our campuses.

However, educators must nurture an open, inquisitive mind. They must not brainwash their students with one and only one narrative on any subject.

When they present one view, they need to offer facts and logic, and they need to let their students hear other views and other narratives. They also need to explain to their students that they must respect other people’s right to freedom of speech. Infringing on other people’s rights is wrong.

There are bound to be policies pursued in Hong Kong or on the mainland that we may not agree with. Voicing out our disagreement and explaining why we disagree is fine and laudable. I had been advocating bank deposit insurance and the minimum wage in Hong Kong since 1983, and electronic road pricing since the mid-1970s. Bank deposit insurance was not adopted until 2006; the minimum wage not until 2010. It is still not clear if and when electronic road pricing will be implemented. There are many stakeholders in any policy issue. We really have no right to dictate our views on the community or on the government.

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.