Protests are growing against a policy instituted by China’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, which will have loyalty to the one-party system taught in Hong Kong schools. Last weekend over 90,000 people, many of them parents with small children, braved hot weather and marched in opposition to a plan that many consider an unprecedented incursion onto autonomy enjoyed by the locality ever since it reverted to Chinese control from the UK.
Although politicians have been talking about unifying the educational curriculum for mainland China and Hong Kong since at least 2007, plans to make this a reality only started coalescing in the past two years. Some link the new urgency to recently passed comprehensive election reform legislation which will, for the first time, allow universal suffrage when electing the country’s chief executive within the next five years.
The courses, which will start on a voluntary basis next month and become mandatory in 2015, are designed to inculcate love of country and respect for Communist Party rule—and conflate the two. A teaching booklet commissioned by the government and entitled “The China Model” calls the ruling party a “progressive, selfless, and united ruling group.” It praises China’s system as “close to the ideal type of government that social scientists aspire to.” In contrast, the U.S. multiparty system “creates endless inter-party feuds that bring disaster to the people.”
Government assurances that teachers will have a free hand in how the curriculum was taught didn’t soothe critics of the plan — especially pro-democracy advocates. Because the questionnaire that students will have to fill out at the end of the course includes questions that test the degree of unquestioned loyalty to China, there are suspicions that the class is nothing but an attempt to indoctrinate future voters into supporting the communist regime.
If so, it is backfiring just like proposed legislation to curtail civil liberties in 2003, when more than half a million Hong Kong people protested. Ironically, that eruption may be the true origin of the Communist Party’s indoctrination push. Incensed pro-Beijing scholars criticized the local population as too unpatriotic to be trusted with universal suffrage. A state-owned newspaper in the territory opined, “Only when universal suffrage would return [candidates] loving China and loving Hong Kong can we have it.”
Concerns that the controversy will evoke memories of the thought control policies of the Cultural Revolution has even spread to politicians supportive of the ruling party in Beijing. Those up for the Legislative Council election, which are scheduled to take place this fall, believe that drawing such a hard line will seriously hurt their chances of remaining in power.
There’s no sign, however, that these concerns have anyone in Beijing wavering, with Hong Kong Education Secretary Eddie Ng Hak-kim continuing forward with the policy.