I was away when the protests first began in July, but when I got back to Hong Kong in August I began following news coverage of it. At one point the city’s head of education said that although there were thousands of people out demonstrating, he was confident that everyone who wasn’t speaking out actually supported his initiative. How can someone claim to represent a group of people on the basis of their non-participation? It’s nonsense. So I decided to go down to see what was going on.
I went for the first time on August 31. The protest organisers set up a sort of fair with different booths where you could see some of the proposed teaching materials. Some of it was surprisingly biased. I saw a set of teaching guidelines that subject matter should evoke an emotional response from students, and if a child fails to demonstrate any feelings over the national anthem, for example, then the teacher should tell them to go home and reflect upon his or herself. The curriculum teaches kids that they should love the country and that they should say that they are proud of being Chinese out loud. A lot of protesters have equated it to ‘brainwashing’. [Hong Kong education officials have reportedly issued a statement denying they have settled on a teaching manual
that has been criticised for being excessively pro-Communist Party].
“The theme of the course inherently rules out critical thought”
Even though I feel that there are a lot of cultural differences between mainland China and Hong Kong, we are all Chinese. Regardless, I don’t think this kind of programme really has a place in Hong Kong’s schools. I feel that the theme of the course inherently rules out critical thought. Worse yet, even if a child learns the material by heart, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they believe it. When they have to take a test in class, they’ll basically be asked to lie if they want to pass. It would basically teach students how not to tell the truth.
There are always at least a few thousand people out in front of Hong Kong’s education headquarters. Knowing that a lot of the demonstrators have to go to work, people take turns making sure the space is constantly occupied. People come with extra water, toilet paper, sleeping bags, tents, and things for the rain.
So far, Hong Kong’s government hasn’t really responded in any meaningful way, other than making an effort to let everyone know that it will be up to individual schools to decide how they want to phase the new subject matter into the curriculum. A number of schools have decided not to launch it yet, I think partly because of the protests and partly because of pressure from parents. The government might hold dialogue as a way to appease the public, and may even be willing to make some compromises, but I don’t think there are a lot of protesters who believe that they’ll actually revoke the initiative. Regardless, there’s a university strike planned for next Tuesday if the government doesn’t address the protesters' demands, and there are plans to keep demonstrating until they give in.