School principal Li Kin-man sits next to a robot before students sit exams at the Salesians of Don Bosco Ng Siu Mui Secondary School in Hong Kong on April 24. (Photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP)
Beijing has stepped up its rhetoric on Hong Kong’s education system, with state-run media slamming a high school diploma exam question and describing the city as “lawless” and examiners as “traitors.”
The offending question asked students whether Japan had done "more good than harm to China during the period between 1900 and 1945” and was for the Diploma of Secondary Education test that also serves as a university entrance exam.
Beijing’s proxies — the mainland has been steadily putting more pro-Beijing people in place in key roles cross the city’s governing infrastructure — struck early.
The Hong Kong Education Bureau demanded that the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority review the controversial exam question. The bureau claimed that the question “may lead candidates to reach a biased conclusion, seriously hurting the feelings and dignity of the Chinese people who suffered great pain during the Japanese invasion of China.”
This type of language is straight from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propaganda playbook, which loves to invoke the injured feelings of the Chinese people who do not get to vote for their government that makes these statements.
Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung told media that the bureau would ask the exam authority to invalidate the question, saying the attached reading materials were "biased" and the question "deviated from objective facts.”
A commentary on state-run Xinhua news wire on May 15 Hong Kong said schools had failed to "decolonize" and that the special administrative region’s education system had not developed in line with the "one country, two systems" (1C2S) agreement.
1C2S was the agreement struck with Great Britain in 1984 about how Hong Kong would be governed after the European nation handed back the territory to China at the end of its 99-year lease in 1997.
The fresh assault on Hong Kong’s education system is the third inside a week. The city’s increasingly derided Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who has badly mishandled the ongoing street protests, had called for an overall of “liberal arts” education, which covers the crucial study of history.
Hong Kong’s education system remains firmly rooted in the Western tradition of free thought and critical thinking characterized by a lack of censorship. This is quite different from the system on the mainland where censorship has seen history excised and/or revised.
Beijing now has a clear policy to have its puppet government in Hong Kong launch a fresh attack on the city's education system, something it has tried and failed before.
In 2012, at Beijing’s behest, the Hong Kong government tried to bring in controversial lessons on appreciating mainland China. This resulted in street protests objecting to proposed changes to the education curriculum.
Contrary to the propaganda of China’s state-run media, the bid to overhaul education in the city goes to the very heart of Xi Jinping's program to effectively tear up 1C2S decades before its 2047 expiry.
It has gone hand in hand with a push for influence in the city’s affairs by mainland bureaucracy and Lam’s complete compliance to her Beijing masters. The issue will be brought to something of a head in the coming days, although it has a long way to run.
Hong Kong's deputies to the National People's Congress and members of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference will raise the issue of Hong Kong's education when they attend the “two sessions in Beijing,” the Global Times reported. These meetings, delayed from their usual early March annual timeslot because of the Covid-19 pandemic, are due to start on May 21 and 22.
Lam and Beijing are simply handing disaffected Hong Kongers something more to protest about.
In a way, Beijing is right that the open education system in Hong Kong has been a breeding ground for protesters angry at attempts to make the city come to heel under an authoritarian regime.
But it is Hong Kong’s education system that lays the foundations for the city’s uniqueness, something that the CCP still very much needs as its financial funnel to the rest of the world.
Beijing should be careful what it wishes for.