Meditations on Fluff_A Prologue to Mixed Marriages and the FHKGEP

  • Published on

  • View

  • Download

Embed Size (px)


Meditations on Fluff_A Prologue to Mixed Marriages and the FHKGEP


  • 1

    Meditations on Fluff: A Prologue to Mixed Marriages and the FHKGEP


    Margaret Chu, D. Phil. Consultant, The Hong Kong America Centre

  • 2

    In 1905, the Qing Dynasty (16441911) abolished its civil service

    examinations system, terminating a meritocratic system that had been in

    operation in imperial China for millennia. Thenceforth selections of talents for the

    officialdom and public recognition of abilities had to look elsewhere, in the newly

    founded modern schools with their new curriculum, the reformed academies and,

    still a practice that persisted for a while, the clan schools and private tutoring in

    mandarin families. Structural and curriculum change eventually gave rise to the

    historical debate between the classicists and the modernists over the abolition of

    classical and literary Chinese as the medium of instruction in favour of the

    vernacular. New curriculum introduced new subjects, new books and new ideas.

    The late Qing witnessed a proliferation of translations of foreign ideas, Yan Fu,

    who was unversed in any Western language, being one of the most famous

    translators of Western texts. Amidst foreign imperialist aggression and

    exploitation, economic and political turmoil, as well as natural disasters including

    the bubonic plague, Chinese society was fraught with excitement and

    extremities. It was poised for change.

    New ideas gave rise to new consciousness, new forms of action, new

    mentality. The 1911 Revolution six years later boasted of women radicals,

    modern educated descendants of the traditional literati-gentry class, overseas

    returned students, the new bourgeoisie, teachers in the modern schools, the new

    working class and reform-minded officials. The last Qing Emperor abdicated,

    thus ending an imperial tradition that had served China for millennia, a system

    well-served by its civil service examinations system, a selection structure of

    immense sophistication that has often been unfairly denigrated in our time.

    Republican China adopted Western systems of government, banking, education,

    while staffing them with the new elite. The torrents of change, however,

    continued. Millennia-old traditions needed time to adapt. Meanwhile civil wars

    and foreign invasions culminating in the Pan-Pacific War waged by the

    Japanese, primarily on Chinese soil, devastated the countryside, and sent the

    nations best minds to soul-searching, its intellectuals to seek solutions from

    foreign ideas and its activists to radicalism. The 1949 Revolution witnessed

  • 3

    decades of excessive changes in China and a crazed, self-immolation of its

    intellectual culture with concurrent annihilation of its educational system, which

    effects on the Chinese psyche have yet to be studied.

    Hong Kong has enjoyed a lighter chapter. It is a city within a huge

    country. Its current government and the older generations amongst its

    population remember, have seen or been a part of that turbulent period of

    Chinas recent past. The British colonial government, for its part, was

    conscious of a different historical lesson, one that was learnt the hard way from

    its rulership in India. It is reasonable, then, to detect in Hong Kongs higher

    education features quite unique to itself.

    Faustian Rejuvenation of Civilisation

    When Faust wakes up and Gretchen has drowned herself, his journey has

    just begun; when the old couple find themselves displaced, Faust is intensely

    preoccupied with nation-building.

    Fundamental changes in education, in the case of modern Chinese

    history, yield the narrative of complete overhaul of a countrys five thousand

    years of historical development under the circumstance. Traumatic for the

    nation, rotten roots have to be plucked out and, in the process, young shoots and

    healthy roots as well. The HKSAR Government, through the University Grants

    Council (UGC), mandated the abolition of the 5+2+3 system of secondary to

    post-secondary education in favour of a 3+3+4 system. Taking into account a

    younger group of first-year students in the cyber-space world of fewer siblings,

    fast food and working mothers, integration with the Mainland and globalisation,

    the UGC perceived a gap in the college students education that had to be filled

    by tertiary institutions. Higher education is recognised increasingly as an

    extension of secondary school, offering remedial programmes. Data learnt have

    now to be digested and processed to feed into other channels where necessary.

    Retentive memory is used most effectively together with the faculties of logic and

    analysis, a process which also benefits immensely from exercising ones

    intellectual capability at the same time. Learning cannot be done without

  • 4

    teachers. Inherent in the General Education reform is inevitably a demand for

    pedagogical changes. When you teach differently, you necessarily assess

    differently. Old styles of teaching are no longer desirable in the new types of

    courses designed with new visions of the sort of minds to be nurtured, characters

    to be developed, and socio-political consciousness to be espoused. Only history

    has the privilege to follow the story to its endunless future generations

    hastened Planet Earth towards its perdition.

    A Touch of Likeness

    An attractive feature of the HKSAR is its bureaucratic efficiency, lovable

    certainly on the receiving end of its services but perhaps less so for those caught

    in the labyrinth of authority. The a-historical assign credit to the British for having

    imported a sophisticated civil bureaucracy. The comparatively more versed point

    to Chinas own tradition of organising huge numbers of people for monumental

    construction, of which the Great Wall stands out as an example. Millennia before

    that was an ancient example of flood control efforts by the famous Da Yu of the

    Xia Dynasty (ca. 21831752 B.C.) when hundreds of thousands of people had to

    be mobilised to undertake the herculean task for substantial periods of time over

    a range of terrain. Some historians, for their part, have shown that the reverse is

    true: it was the Chinese who taught the British the operations and efficacy of a

    bureaucratic civil service system. A fishing port within a huge country and a

    colony under the former British Empire, the HKSAR has benefitted from both.

    The University of Hong Kong was the signature tertiary institution that trained

    competent and obedient civil servants who readily carried out orders from their

    colonial masters without questions asked. Just say the word, and the job is

    done. When reinforced by a bureaucratic tradition at once extremely

    sophisticated and long lived, the die is cast: universities in the HKSAR will

    perpetuate the bureaucratic culture come what may.

    All Great Minds Think Alike: General Education and the Confucian Tradition

  • 5

    The six core areas of study in imperial China were: rites and propriety,

    music, archery, charioteering, book learning and mathematics, while the core

    texts were The Four Books and the Five Classics. Learning was emphasised for

    the sake of the Self, wei ji zhi xue, because the Self was where everything spins

    off: It is only after you manage to cultivate yourself that you can harmonise the

    family, govern the country and, finally, bring peace to the world. And the way to

    cultivate yourself is through rectification (systematic analysis) of things, extension

    of knowledge, sincerity of intent and a correct mind-and-heart. In short, imperial

    China opted for breadth of learning, which included the aesthetic and physical

    prowess, humane and mathematical subjects, all of which backed by core texts

    for the sake of self-cultivation, while the nurturing of the self requires intellectual

    capability, mental acumen, ethical development and psycho-physical

    preservation. It was not just the ancient Greeks (such as Plato in his Republic)

    who had thought about the matter along the same lines, the Chinese had come

    to similar conclusions. General education, very much an American brand, is

    finding itself cross-fertilised through the Fulbright Hong Kong General Education

    Programme. Better produce are yet to come in the course of time.

    Journey to the West

    That is, journey westwards to the EastAsia.

    The Fulbright Scholar Programme advertised on the website

    ( of the Council for International Exchange of Scholars (CIES),

    announces a New Fulbright Scholar Award Building a General Education

    Curriculum in Hong Kong Universities:

    Recipients of these new awards will work with Hong

    Kong universities as they prepare for a transition from a three-year undergraduate program to a four-year undergraduate program in September 2012. Grantees will be part of a team that will be coordinated by the Hong Kong-America Center (HKAC). The team will work with all of the Hong Kong institutions. Each grantee will also be affiliated with one of Hong Kongs tertiary institutions where the

  • 6

    grantee will consult with colleagues and the committee that have responsibility for developing the general education curriculum and courses for the new undergraduate program. Grantees will also teach one course in their area of specialisation. With support from the U.S. Department of State, the awards are made possible by a generous grant from Po Chung, a Hong Kong businessman and entrepreneur, and the University Grants Committee of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

    That is to say, apart from coming to Hong Kong with the support of the U.S.

    Department of State, these Fulbright Scholars are coming as guests to Hong

    Kongs universities invited by a generous gift from a private individual with a

    matching grant from the UGC of the Hong Kong Government for the stated

    purposes and functions.

    While these American scholars will work with Hong Kong scholars who

    are developing general education in their host universities, their housing will be

    provided by the host universities.

    In addition, they will be affiliated with the Hong Kong-

    America Center, a consortium of Hong Kong universities, and will work together as a team to strengthen general education in all HK universities in the run-up to September 2012. The HKAC will convene regular working meetings of the Fulbright scholars and their HK colleagues to share experience and promote collaboration among universities.

    This website,, further elaborates in its

    announcement of the Fulbright Hong Kong General Education Program In Hong

    Kong Universities:

    The Fulbright scholars will be affiliated with the

    general education units and will be cross-assigned to appropriate academic departments for some teaching responsibilities and collegial interaction with local scholars in their fields.

    In addition, some macro outline of work distribution is indicated:

  • 7

    We expect the Fulbright scholars to teach about half-

    time and to reserve other time for developmental work on general education at their host universities, as well as to collaborate across institutions on general education where appropriate.

    The international angle of the Award is brought to bear. Not merely for the

    usefulness of administration purposes to support the development of general

    education in Hong Kong has the Award been endowed but also for the benefit of

    students for which education is about, the HKAC announcement envisages that:

    the Fulbright scholars in the FHKGEP will remain

    engaged with their HK host universities to develop partnerships for student exchanges. These may involve two-way movement of students and/or the joint delivery of general education via technology reflecting Asian and Western dimensions of world civilisation. We also hope these returned Fulbright scholars will advocate for a greater place for Asian civilisation in general education programs in American universities.

    Dissimilar in mission but not so in spirit, Chinese Buddhists in more identifiable

    designation and intellectuals interested in metaphysics had played that role since

    at least the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.A.D. 220), culminating in the famous

    pilgrimage to the west by Xuanzang (596664), founder of the Faxiang School of

    Buddhism, philosopher and translator. There were many other contacts and

    interactions in the meantime, not only via the Silk Road but especially with Korea,

    Japan and, later, Vietnam, the last group of which were cultural and intellectual

    as well. The final period of benign intellectual and religious exchange before the

    onslaught of imperialism in the nineteenth century would have to be the Jesuits

    during the early Qing Dynasty. Until the Vatican interfered with the practice of

    ancestor veneration by Chinese converts, the Kangxi Emperor (16621722)

    received his foreign guests almost with open arms, curious about Western

    philosophy and science, tolerant of missionaries registered with a licence.

    Beyond chinoiserie, Chippendale furniture, porcelain, silk and a variety of cultural

  • 8

    artefacts, Europe was perhaps more insular intellectually with respect to Chinese

    philosophy although Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (16461716) had made reference

    to it. Reforms in German universities are said to have been influenced to a

    degree by the Chinese examinations system, as was the British civil service

    system to an extent.

    History tells a mixed story. Yin and yang operate each on its own and on

    each other, giving rise to the Five Agents, wuxing:

    By the transformation of yang and its union

    with yin, the Five Agents of Water, Fire, Wood, Metal, and Earth rise. When these five material forces (chi) are distributed in harmonious order, the four seasons run their course. The Five Agents constitute one system of yin and yang, and yin and yang constitute the Great Ultimate. The Great Ultimate is fundamentally the Non-ultimate. The Five Agents arise, each with its specific nature.1

    Human nature shares universal, common denominators but individual human

    beings each have their unique combinations and permutations. It is never wise

    to generalise. Culture and civilisation are terms that are meant to generalise.

    The Chinese intellectual tradition, to be draconian about our generalisation, is

    essentially non-theistic and without creation myth. When asked about ghosts

    and spirits, or the after-life, Confucius famously replied that he would not

    deliberate on that which he does not know and his attitude towards ghosts and

    spirits (as is towards anything) is due respect. This sentiment underlies the

    consciousness of many a Chinese, and may still be relevant in our appreciation

    of the Peoples Republic of China. It explains the Kangxi Emperors annoyance

    with missionaries who carped at our customs. It also signifies areas that are

    off-limits for international conversion. For the cultural anthropologist, these may

    be viewed as characteristics that distinguish one civilisation from another.

    A mere...


View more >