Whose Citizenship Education? Hong Kong from a spatial and cultural politics perspective

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    Whose Citizenship Education? HongKong from a spatial and cultural politicsperspectiveThomas Kwan-choi Tse aa Chinese University of Hong Kong ,Published online: 02 May 2007.

    To cite this article: Thomas Kwan-choi Tse (2007) Whose Citizenship Education? Hong Kong froma spatial and cultural politics perspective, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education,28:2, 159-177, DOI: 10.1080/01596300701289094

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01596300701289094


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  • Whose Citizenship Education? Hong

    Kong from a spatial and cultural

    politics perspective

    Thomas Kwan-choi Tse*Chinese University of Hong Kong

    Citizenship (education) is de facto a political and spatial concept and should be considered in local,

    national, and global contexts. Adopting a spatial and cultural politics perspective and with the

    dynamic formation of Hong Kongs citizenship education as a case study, this article tries to

    illustrate the politics at three different levels. It shows how citizenship and identity are hotly

    contested, with the result that, while the official civic education programme is oriented towards

    national education, a pluralistic and vibrant civil society allows the hybridization and cross-

    fertilization of multiple discourses and practices to run parallel with the state project, either in a

    complementary or competitive way. Civic education launched by the democratic camp in civil

    society may be viewed as empowerment struggles for human rights and democracy vis-a-vis the

    domestication efforts made by the government and the pro-Beijing camp, as well as the tyranny of

    global capitalism.

    Citizenship Education in Question: Locality, power, and discourse

    Citizenship, a contested political notion central to cultural politics, has been

    elevated to the centre of the public agenda. Citizenship is important because it is a

    part of the discourse of democracy, civil society, and our public sphere. Citizenship

    also links the micro- and macro-politics of institutional entitlement with different

    kinds of rights and, therefore, it articulates civil society and the state in the form of a

    new social movement.

    Born of public culture and being itself a part of societys project of citizenship

    building, citizenship education is closely connected to ideology and politics.

    Citizenship education is also a matter of representations and discourse of and for

    someone and, in the last instance, a matter of positionality of the place from which

    one says what, to whom, for what purposes, and in whose interest (Barker, 2000).

    Citizenship education often reflects the society at large. An interesting case by

    which to examine the development of citizenship education under the impact of

    globalization, nationalization, and localization over the years is Hong Kong. The

    *Department of Education Administration and Policy, The Chinese University of Hong Kong,

    Shatin, NT, Hong Kong. Email: kctse@cuhk.edu.hk

    ISSN 0159-6306 (print)/ISSN 1469-3739 (online)/07/020159-19

    # 2007 Taylor & FrancisDOI: 10.1080/01596300701289094

    Discourse: studies in the cultural politics of education

    Vol. 28, No. 2, June 2007, pp. 159177




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  • territory, previously a British colony and now a Chinese Special Administrative

    Region (SAR), has an atypical political status with the post-colonial transition which

    has been ongoing since 1997. Further, a pluralistic and vibrant civil society made the

    development of citizenship education even more complicated and dynamic.

    In short, Hong Kongs special international position, belated decolonialization

    and, hence, partial democratization, together with the transfer of sovereignty from

    the British government to the Peoples Republic of China (PRC), rather than local

    people, has resulted in a peculiar path towards citizenship development in Hong

    Kong in comparison with many other places in the world. The difficult situation of

    developing full citizenship of the residents has more or less reproduced itself in the

    realm of civic education, and this is aptly illustrated by the disputes and struggles

    concerning civic education during the transitional and post-transitional periods (Lee

    & Sweeting, 2001). Obviously, citizenship education comes from both above, by

    the state, and below, by society. Whilst there has been considerable discussion

    concerning the official project of citizenship education (Lee, S. M., 1987; Leung,

    Chai, & Ng, 2000), relatively little attention has been paid to alternative discourses

    and practices, particularly on the part of civil society. Adopting a spatial and cultural

    politics perspective, this article tries to illustrate the politics of citizenship education

    in multiple contexts at the global, national, and local levels. It begins with a brief

    conceptual discussion of the impact of globalization, nationalization, and localiza-

    tion, respectively, on the formation of citizenship. After highlighting the distinctive

    features of Hong Kong, most notably the marginalization of civic education in the

    colonial era and the advent of the official national education hegemony project in

    the post-colonial era, it then examines its counter-discourses in civil society alongside

    the global, national, and local dimensions.

    Citizenship in Local, National, and Global Contexts

    Citizenship per se is a political and spatial concept and should be considered in local,

    national, and global contexts (Williams & Humphrys, 2003a, 2003b). The rapid

    social changes in the form of inter-woven processes of globalization have been

    significantly redefining the notion of citizenship, which is traditionally tied to modern

    nation-state political order. Paradoxically, the advent of globalization is coupled with

    a reaction of localization. When analysing citizenship we must consider more than

    one representation of it. These are various versions of citizenship, as defined by

    different agents of power in multilevel contexts, coupled with various locations and

    forces, and the dynamic citizenship negotiated and contested among different actors

    (a political dimension). Viewed in this way, location means not just a place (a spatial

    dimension) where practices of citizenship take place, but a particular context in

    which social forces operate or take effect. As citizenship is a multidimensional

    construct composing various elements, it has nested statuses and identities, diverse

    rights and duties, and complicated meanings of virtues. The discussion of citizenship

    in various discourses and places directs our attention to the variations across groups

    160 T. K.-C. Tse




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  • or places even within the territory of a single political entity (most commonly a

    nation-state). The simultaneous operation of these forces has led to incongruent or

    even conflicting expectations of ideal or good citizenship by agencies at and in

    different places or sectors.

    In the case of Hong Kong, a cosmopolitan capitalist city moving from a British

    colony to a Chinese autonomous region, the interaction of globalization and

    localization is further complicated by the factor of nationalization. While the

    processes of globalization, localization, and nationalization may be seen as

    competitive, on the one hand, they can also be viewed as complementary, on the

    other (Tang, 1997). In the competitive perspective, globalization means the advent of

    powerful transnational forces which replace or reduce the capacity and autonomy of

    nation-states whereby localization or nationalization assumes the continuity and

    centrality of the dominance of national sovereignty as a central agent in running

    national or local affairs. When viewed in a complementary perspective, globalization,

    localization, and nationalization are interactive, mutually reinforcing processes

    happening at multiple levels. In examining Hong Kongs interaction with the

    nation-state and the global community, it seems that these triple processes interact in

    a dynamic manner and should be understood as a complex of economic, political,

    cultural, and social phenomena which carry complementary, contradictory, and

    uncertain outcomes.

    Whose Citizenship Education?

    Having briefly discussed the global, national, and local contexts in which Hong Kong

    citizenship (education) is embedded, it seems that citizenship (education) is not so

    much a direct reflection of social milieu as the exercise of power and ideology. This is

    particularly salient in Hong Kong, where the civil society enjoys a high degree of

    autonomy and capacity. Aside from larger social contexts, citizenship education is

    mediated by a number of agents, initiators, regulators, providers, or deliverers in the

    cultural/political arena. We will now analyse the multiple discourses concerningcitizenship education articulated by various collaborators or contestants in civil

    society in the light of a cultural politics perspective.

    Hong Kong has always been a colony or an SAR, never a nation-state or a

    democratic polity. Civic education thus displays distinctive features which deviate

    from a conventional unitary model of national citizenship. In the past it was alien,

    conformist, and depoliticized in nature, alienating the young from their indigenous

    nationality and local politics and fostering their identity as residents or subjects

    in a colony rather than citizens in a nation-state (Lee, S. M., 1987). Since the

    1980s the processes of decolonization and national reintegration have triggered

    interest and concerns for school civic education in Hong Kong, which have resulted

    in the active involvement of many concerned parties or organizations in promoting

    civic education and a sudden eruption of disputes in the field of civic education.

    Hong Kongs experience is unlike many former British colonies heading towards

    Citizenship Education in Hong Kong 161




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  • independence and nation-building. Its reintegration with an existing socialist state,

    the Peoples Republic of China, and at the same time the maintenance of a high

    degree of autonomy and a capitalist way of life for at least 50 years is unique.

    Citizenship education is obviously involved in this process of cultural reformation

    and nation building, in tandem with socio-political change at large.

    Many post-colonialists (Bhabha, 1990; Law, W.-S., 1998) have drawn our

    attention to plurality and power in cultural construction and suggested that any

    solid identity or grand narrative is subject to deconstruction and critique by

    debunking its homogeneity and totality and emphasizing its contradictory, incon-

    sistent, and incoherent features. It is therefore crucial to analyse how different agents,

    be they governmental or non-governmental organizations (NGOs), come to terms

    with their own version of citizenship education in the dynamics of hegemony or

    counter-hegemony formation. Viewed in this way, citizenship is also a narrative

    and writing process located on contested ground with pluralistic discourses.

    Components of citizenship (legal status, rights, duties, subjective identity, and

    desirable virtues) are subject to continuous construction and reconstruction, either

    in form of accommodation, contestation, or resistance.

    In Hong Kong the existence of various NGOs in a relatively vibrant civil society,

    coupled with a pluralistic education system, allows a large degree of freedom for

    contestation from below and a myriad of citizenship practices which contribute to

    alternative and contested notions of citizenship. Moreover, the official advocacy of

    decentralized curriculum implementation in recent years means that schooling

    practices in the field of civic education become more diverse and uncertain. Civil

    society in Hong Kong is characterized by a proliferation of various kinds of voluntary

    groups and civic organizations, divided by various purposes, diverse interests and

    ideological orientation (Lui, Kuan, Chan, & Chan, 2005). This was one of the results

    of a loose or soft, but authoritarian, colonial strategy for rule by the British

    administration and its cautious handling of the potential threats to colonialism in the

    past. Civil rights allow a certain high degree of autonomy to associations and

    organizations and some guarantee against political intrusion. These civic organiza-

    tions, at the interface between the state and the people, have played a critical role in

    the domain of social services and social welfare in facilitating the articulation of

    interests and in the creation of space for popular mobilization and political

    participation. It is common for many advocacy or pressure groups and social

    movements, both grassroots and elite, to join together and form an ad hoc alliance

    for a common cause. In this way, issue-based and loosely knit networks forming

    democratic camps have appeared on many occasions since the 1980s, particularly

    salient in the case of f...


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