Education and Politics: the case of Hong Kong from an historical perspective

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Florida International University]On: 20 December 2014, At: 04:23Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Education and Politics: the caseof Hong Kong from an historicalperspectivePaul Morris & Anthony SweetingPublished online: 03 Aug 2006.

    To cite this article: Paul Morris & Anthony Sweeting (1991) Education and Politics: the caseof Hong Kong from an historical perspective, Oxford Review of Education, 17:3, 249-267, DOI:10.1080/0305498910170302

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  • Oxford Review of Education, Vol. 17, No. 3, 1991 249

    Education and Politics: the case of Hong Kong from anhistorical perspective

    PAUL MORRIS & ANTHONY SWEETING

    ABSTRACT Hong Kong has been a British Colony since 1843 and in 1997 its sover-eignty will return to the People's Republic of China. Colonialism and the impendingdecolonisation of Hong Kong have inevitably been major influences on the educationalsystem generally and the curriculum specifically. This article considers from an historicalperspective the relationship between schooling and politics. This is undertaken through ananalysis of the purpose and means by which schools and curricula have been controlled.What emerges, in the period prior to 1982, is the conscious apoliticisation of schooling.Since 1982 the confirmation of Hong Kong's return to Chinese sovereignty has resulted ina rapid politicisation of curricula. Finally, the consequences of the current relationshipsbetween politics and the school curriculum are discussed.

    Control of the school curriculum has long been perceived as a primary tool formaintaining and legitimating political power and the ideology of those in power. Themeans for achieving this goal has varied markedly as has the degree of explicitness andspeed with which it has been pursued. This necessitates a distinction between threeforms of relationship between politics and schooling. Political indoctrination involvesthe deliberate use of all socialisation agencies to transmit a single ideology as the truth.Political socialisation involves the encouragement of a predisposition towards a certainset of political values. Political education refers to the attempt to create a criticalawareness of political phenomena by open and balanced discussion of a range ofevidence. It is also necessary to identify, in view of the policies pursued in Hong Kong,another point on this continuum, namely the attempt to ensure the apoliticisation ofeducation, itself. As will become evident, this is not to suggest the pursuit ofcurriculum neutrality. Indeed, apoliticisation was promoted for explicitly politicalmotives.

    Along with this sensitivity to direct political influences there is also an expectationthat the school curriculum should perform a major role in explicitly promoting anational character and identity. The promotion of national identity and an essentiallyConfucian set of moral values are central goals of school curricula in the People'sRepublic of China (PRC), Singapore, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and to a lesser extent inHong Kong (Marsh & Morris, 1991). Words such as hard-working, disciplined,confident and self-reliant, collective will and character, self-sacrifice, perseverance andresilience have collectively come to represent a set of values, peculiarly Asian, whichneed to be reinforced through education. Thus, in Asia, the role of schools reflectsDurkheim's view that they should act as guardians of national character and inculcate acommon set of moral sentiments.

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  • 250 Oxford Review of Education

    The relationship between education and politics is clearly complex. It is alsosymbiotic, for the forms of politicisation are extensive and education itself has animpact on political developments (Thomas, 1983). Iannaccone (1983) provides auseful conceptual distinction between the internal politics of education and the generalpolitics of a country. He argues that the extent of the politicisation of education can bemeasured by the degree of difference between the two elements. Where the distinctionbetween them is non-existent then the politicisation of education reaches its highestpoint and vice versa. He also argues that a high degree of politicisation is the result ofa low level of governmental legitimacy. This insight might be sharpened by arecognition of the distinction between 'general' or 'macro' politics and 'sectoral', even'parochial' political concerns. A further distinction between formal and informalpolitical activity (or between Politics with a capital P and the 'lower case' of politics)might also bear fruit. Hong Kong's experience provides a situation where the generalPolitics of the colony have for a variety of complex reasons consciously stressedapoliticisation and the colonial government has played the central role in achieving thatgoal. Thus a situation has arisen where the apolitical general politics of the territoryhave been closely paralleled by an apolitical educational system and school curriculum.The more recent attempts to politicise the school curriculum are clearly related (aseither cause or effect) to the broader politicisation of Hong Kong society which hasaccompanied the impending transfer of political sovereignty to the People's Republicof China in 1997.

    The purpose of this paper is to analyse from an historical perspective the purposesand processes by which schools generally and the curriculum specifically have beencontrolled in Hong Kong. Hong Kong constitutes a fascinating case for it is a Chinesecommunity which is in constitutional terms a British Colony, the destiny of which hasbeen substantially affected by the external and internal tensions and turmoil afflictingthe PRC. Within Hong Kong the influence of politics on the school curriculumtherefore raises a number of questions about the operation of a secular educationaltradition within an Asian context where education has been more directly linked topolitical indoctrination and the pursuit of national identity. The close link betweenpolitics and the school curriculum is demonstrated. Prior to 1982, the link primarilyinvolved the conscious pursuit of apoliticisation as a counter to the intrusion ofexternal political influences. We argue that this has contributed to Hong Kong'scurrent problems and concerns. The initial sections of this paper will focus on themain political issues which have influenced the curriculum in the past few decades andon the mechanisms used to minimize their impact. The consequences of the apoliticisa-tion of the curriculum are then discussed with specific reference to the development ofrepresentative government and the impending transfer of sovereignty of the territoryto Chinese sovereignty. Three critical political issues which have had a major impacton Hong Kong's development and on the school curriculum are discussed in turn.They are: relations with the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT),relations with the Chinese Communists, and the transfer of sovereignty over HongKong to China.

    THE KUOMINTANG

    The ultra-nationalistic, anti-colonial and at times anti-British tone of the KMT'spolicies ensured a wariness by the colonial government towards their activities. Pre-World War II examples of the direct impact of these suspicions on education in Hong

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  • Education and Politics in Hong Kong 251

    Kong include the introduction of Civics into the curriculum as a safeguard against theNationalist 'New Life Movement' (Sweeting, 1990a) and an alignment of Hong KongGovernment officials with immigre Chinese scholars of a distinctively conservativeoutlook (Luk, 1991). In the post-war period, it was specifically the KMT's attempts inHong Kong to direct the media and to run schools which were the major objects ofconcern. Reasons for this concern partly stemmed from opposition towards politicalindoctrination (or at least a distaste for crude propaganda techniques) and partly fromhyper-sensitivity about jurisdiction and territoriality. Thus, in 1946 Hong Kong'sActing Secretary for Chinese Affairs commented that "The Kuomintang has alwaysput the education of Chinese youth in its political tenets, which are, of course, those ofits founder, Dr. Sun Yat Sen, in the forefront of its programme of propaganda"(Sweeting, 1989). He estimated that the party had some 35 private schools under itsinfluence in Hong Kong and took pains to point out that in these private schools "itendeavours to hold ceremonies on Chinese national occasions, at which there is a ritualobservance towards the picture of Dr. Sun, and 'community' shouting of party'slogans'." The Hong Kong official also expressed unease about interference in HongKong schools from outside the territory and touched on implications of espionage:

    Grants-in-aid from Party funds are said to be promised to schools whichshow themselves to be very amenable to control, but it is not known if anysuch grants have actually yet been paid. Another phase of its efforts toeducate Chinese youth appears in the organization known as the "ThreePeople's Principles Youth Corps" which has a Hong Kong branch. ThisYouth Corps is believed to train its members chiefly in the work of collectingintelligence of a political nature and of petty spying on opponents of theParty, or on persons who do not show any particular readiness to be broughtinto the fold. (Memorandum by Acting Secretary for Chinese Affairs, 28November 1946; cited in Sweeting, 1989)

    The British Colonial Office was quick to respond to the suggestion of an "imperium inimperio".

    It is clear that the Kuomintang aim at permeating the whole life of theChinese community in Hong Kong. Their activities embrace schools andeducation, control of the vernacular press, the control of the trade unions,the infiltration of cultural activities and the bringing of as many societies andindividuals as possible within their fold... (Minute by Miss A. Ruston, 21December 1946; cited in Sweeting, 1989)

    Locally published newspapers which sympathised with the KMT's cause also focusedtheir criticism on the weaknesses of the educational system and the lack of patriotismof the educated Chinese who supported the colonial government.

    In November 1946 the commemoration of Chiang Kai Shek's birthday became theoccasion for an appeal by KMT members and supporters to the Hong Kong publicthat a fund be established "to afford education to all the people in Hong Kong as partof the memorial to the Generalissimo". This, it was explained, would allow for the'proper instruction' of the people. It is hardly surprising that the initiative wasregarded by officials within Hong Kong as both presumptuous and offensive. TheGovernment's concern about who was in control of schools was reflected in andexacerbated by a number of other incidents. First, a letter was intercepted which askedthe 'Hong Kong and Macao Overseas Education Bureau', the main KMT educationalorganisation, to keep a check on four teachers in Government schools who were

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  • 252 Oxford Review of Education

    'traitors', i.e. not conforming to the doctrine of San Min Chu I ('The Three Principlesof the People'). Secondly, in 1948 the Hong Kong Government's Education Depart-ment required amendments to be made to the ultra-nationalistic sections of KMT-sponsored History, Civics and Geography textbooks. Thirdly, in 1949 the Govern-ment's anxiety over the KMT's influence on the Colony resulted in their rejection ofan offer by the Guangdong Education Department to establish a Medical College inHong Kong. Thus the protection of the Colonial Government's territoriality wasprimarily achieved by enacting administrative measures which allowed the Govern-ment to determine who established schools and what was contained in school text-books.

    The Government anxiety over the activities of the KMT gradually diminished withthe growing success of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in China. In Hong Kong,an alliance for educational purposes between the Communists and Anglicans presentedofficials with a new set of problems.

    COMMUNISTS, ANGLICANS AND WORKERS' SCHOOLS

    The shortage of school places in the immediate post-war period caused trade unionistsof leftist persuasion to request assistance from the Anglican Church and especially itsradical bishop, the Rt. Rev. R.O. Hall, to help organise 'workers' children's schools'.The Hong Kong Government cooperated at first, and some officials were activesupporters of the association established to provide education for the children ofworkers. Support included permission to run schools often in rented premises withintenement blocks, aided by small subsidies from the Government. The Anglican BishopHall, becoming widely known as 'the Red Bishop', argued for further Governmentassistance to allow the children to receive a broad and practical education. A leadinglocal industrialist agreed to support the venture on the grounds that "the primarypurpose of these schools is not to edu...

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