The South China Morning Post reported today that plans for a “national education” have been shelved for a few more years, until 2015. Without too much exaggeration, the purpose of the curriculum was to make Hong Kong students feel more Chinese. Specifically, a version of Chinese-ness inspired by the Politburo Standing Committee in Beijing. The idea was proposed by Mr Bowtie after Hu Jintao remarked “on the importance of giving Hong Kong children a better understanding of China’s development and identity.” A puppet knows where his strings lead.
This would be done primarily with learning to “sing the National Anthem, understand the Basic Law, attending national flag raising ceremonies, supporting national sports teams, and appreciate and understand Chinese culture.” Unsurprisingly, many have called this brainwashing. At issue is that Hong Kong Chinese are a very different type of Chinese than Mainland Chinese, as Cam McMurchy recently wrote at depth on. The most clear measurement of this has been the increasing number of Hong Kongers who identify themselves first as Hong Kongers and second as Chinese. Which, of course, the Standing Committee in Beijing ridicules as “unscientific.”
As a relatively recent guest in Hong Kong and a former long-term guest of the People’s Republic (but I repeat myself?), I have mixed feelings. I instinctively react negatively to Beijing dictating anything to Hong Kong. But I don’t automatically sympathize with the locals because I don’t think they’ve got a much better idea. A post-colonial identity needs to be constructed, but it needs to be the product of a territory-wide discussion about what our current and historical experience has been.
I think, in many ways, Hong Kong is too localist. I’ve written before that I have strong feelings against the rise of Cantonese as a Medium of Instruction in Hong Kong. I think Hong Kongers don’t really know what it means to be a citizen of Hong Kong. They forget that they are mostly the progeny of relatively recent migrants, mostly because of how quickly they dropped other regional dialects for Cantonese. Hong Kong, as far back as paleolithic times, was a rocky outpost with people from around the region coming in and out. The arrival of the British and the increase in trade brought in migrants from around China and the world. I have a Portoguese/English friend on my island whose family been in the region for six generations. That’s longer than many of my “local” friends. I don’t think there’s an intertwining unique history of a unique people, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
Gordon Mathews, a scholar on Hong Kong identity at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, says that “the greatest fear Hong Kong people have is Hong Kong becoming just one more city in China.” I fear that for most of Hong Kong sees their city as a cleaner Guangzhou – cleaner government, cleaner streets, cleaner subways – with a colonial legacy. Most of us attracted to Hong Kong see something altogether different: arguably Asia’s only truly global city. Hong Kong needs to forge a common post-ethnic identity that comes to terms with 2047, when handover to the PRC is complete. An identity that doesn’t cringe at the thought of Filipino domestic helpers being one of “us.” With an identity like that, Hong Kong can move forward on a lot of other educational problems – like where to place non-Chinese students in Hong Kong. Until then, the “us vs them” will remain Mainland vs Cantonese-speaking Chinese. I don’t know exactly what it would look like, I only hope that it begins and that it eventually includes ethnic minorities, permanent/long-term expats, and even the arrivals from the Mainland as well as the other 90% of Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong. Together, we’re constructing a unique identity that we need to put to words and ideals.