The High School Course Beijing Accuses of Radicalizing Hong Kong

from NYTs

They are sitting in orderly rows, wearing neatly pressed uniforms. But in this class, as they debate the merits of democracy and civil rights, Hong Kong high school students are prompting Beijing to worry that they are increasingly out of control.

The mandatory civics course known here as liberal studies has been a hallmark of the curriculum in Hong Kong for years, and students and teachers say the point is to make better citizens who are more engaged with society.

But mainland Chinese officials and pro-Beijing supporters say the prominence of the city’s youth at recent mass protests is the clearest sign yet that this tradition of academic freedom has gone too far, giving rise to a generation of rebels.

“The liberal studies curriculum is a failure,” Tung Chee-hwa, a former leader of Hong Kong, said in July. “It is one of the reasons behind the youth’s problems today.”

More here.

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8 Responses to The High School Course Beijing Accuses of Radicalizing Hong Kong

  1. Kathleen Watts September 6, 2019 at 3:23 pm #

    I’d like to say first that the third and fourth paragraphs are particularly striking. It seems as though the mainland Chinese officials and pro-Beijing supporters see the protests from the youth of Hong Kong as wildly ignorant displays. Instead of taking their actions seriously and considering their requests, as you might hope a government would do, the officials see these young adults as childish and misled fools who have been pushed by their schools into this way of thinking. Furthermore, the fact that the leaders of China’s ruling communist party feel the need to micromanage what the youth are learning is proof that they know just how fragile any sort of support for them is. They truly fear opposition and how it could affect their current supporters because they know that very few people are educated believers in the current system. If they don’t quell these protests, they risk the break down of the effects of their systematic indoctrination on mainland China. Mainland Chinese officials would like to see Hong Kong youth become more patriotic to the current party and celebrate it’s triumphs. In actuality, however, the youth are very much educated on the history of this party and are not laying down their swords like the party wants. The fact that these young people who live in China are actually educated on the events of Tiananmen Square wouldn’t be surprising if not for the communist party’s consistent denial to its citizens of the event even taking place. I think Hoi Wai-hang says it perfectly, the party truly does not want its students to be educated because they fear their intelligence, and for good reason. They want total control, and you cannot control someone when they are given academic freedom, like they are allowed in Hong Kong. The control of someone’s beliefs starts from the ground up. Even Hitler feared proper education so much that he had his citizens burn books. The fact that the teacher’s union stands with the students speaks volumes to the opposition against the party. Especially in times like these, it is important that people continue to fight for what they believe is right. Although they most likely won’t see the effects for many years, they are changing the lives of generations after them, which, arguably, is the most important factor. The fundamental disconnect between the desires of the communist party to control and the desires of the Hong Kong education system for academic freedom will continue to boil over until one concedes. It doesn’t seem to matter to the party whether or not higher ups in the Hong Kong education system believe that the liberal studies program has caused these protests, they will continue to fight against them because they don’t want these kids to have any form of academic freedom. In the event that the party succeeds and classes like these are taken out of the curriculum, I hope that other teachers take a leaf out of Mr. Hoi’s book and continue to instill these values in their students secretly. At the end of the day, the teachers have the power over what their students truly learn.

  2. Anthony Freda September 6, 2019 at 4:20 pm #

    China has been under communist rule since post World War II and since that point there have been nothing but protesting the government. Uprisings in parts of Tibet and Hong Kong have been occurring for decades. I find it interesting in the 3rd paragraph when its stated that mainland Chinese officials and Pro Beijing supporters are stating that Hong Kong is raising a generation of rebels. These “rebels” are protesting due to the propaganda and mistreatment of the citizens under the current Chinese system. It’s evident in the 8th paragraph that Chinese officials are ramping up their attempts to instill communist ways to younger generations. Xi Jinping (leader of the communist party) and his officials are making it a priority to instill “crucial ideologies” to these young citizens. China would like to run their own education system so they can control the minds and knowledge of all Chinese citizens. They want communism to stay and frankly are afraid of change. They may be an important global piece, but it’s within their nation that lies an issue. They have one of the highest poverty rates in all of the nation. I understand part of that issue is due to population size, but the average GDP Per capita is roughly $9,000 usd. For a country so important to global affairs, their infrastructure is very weak. This is a direct correlation of their communistic properties. I personally feel as though it is time for the Chinese government to start shifting their ideologies towards a more democratic state. China has shut down pro democratic ways since the 1989 protesters in Tiananmen Square. The article also mentions a Nobel Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, who died while in government custody. Xiaobo was involving with a petition that called for democratic reform. Their strong hatred towards democracy has been noticed by citizens across the nation. With the new school year just starting up, it may be just the beginning of China’s democratic uprises.

  3. Sean Distelcamp September 6, 2019 at 4:31 pm #

    The fact that teacher’s in China are encouraged to answer, “I don’t know” to current event questions, along with China’s strict censorship policies, really emphasizes Hoi Wai-Hang’s quote,”They want to make young people dumber and less aware.” It is clear that China’s current government only cares about maintaining power and sacrifices the freedom of its citizens to do so. They encourage blind nationalism and reward a worker bee like mentality in order to keep the status quo.
    I think that this article in particular really shows the importance of the human side of education. Even though the Chinese government has set their curriculum of unquestioning patriotism, Mr. Hoi still says that he will teach his students liberal arts and current events. The fact that online courses, or any courses that do not have a human teacher are becoming more popular around the world can be worrying for this reason. If Chinese students were taught by computers or AI commissioned by the Chinese government, it would be much easier to indoctrinate young people and keep them uninformed.
    In America, we thankfully still enjoy a culture of freedom and free-thinking relative to places like China. However, it is more important now more than ever to recognize if we are at risk to having these freedoms stripped away. The American government certainly has all the surveillance cameras and personal data they need in order to set up a social score system similar to China’s, they simply have not flipped the switch yet. Education is key to knowing one’s rights and maintaining freedom. While a standardized curriculum can be important to make sure all students are getting a fair and useful public education, it is equally important that human teachers continue to teach from their own personal perspectives as well.
    From the outside looking in, it is obvious that the Chinese government is doing everything they can to silence these teachers and young people, while they promote ignorance. It must be difficult for the people who actually live it everyday to be constantly bombarded with propaganda and misinformation. I hope that the people of Hong Kong can begin to finally break the cycle.

  4. Alexander Nowik September 13, 2019 at 1:21 pm #

    “Nothing like it [liberal studies] exists in schools on the mainland. There, Mr. Xi has presided over a vigorous campaign to recenter Chinese society around ideology, specifically ‘Xi Jinping Thought,’ his self-branded philosophy, which was written into China’s Constitution.” To me, this is the most important issue raised in this article. Not only is Hong Kong facing backlash from Beijing for having this class in their high-schools, but the “alternative” the mainland is taught, is little more than brainwashing by their dictator.
    Liberal studies’ expanding of views of youth in Hong Kong, has put pressure on Beijing to tighten its grip. China’s history has proven how impactful a handful of impassioned citizens can be, and with many of these individuals believing in Democracy, it threatens the communist party directly.
    Worldwide we see the impact education can have on a society, (Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, says books are the greatest fear of the Taliban, another oppressive regime), and Hong Kong is a great example of it. In the US we take for granted that liberal arts are taught at all levels of education. We don’t realize how important they are for the fostering of a healthy society.
    One last comment on the article, is whether or not the government of Hong Kong will bend the knee to Beijing’s demands, or whether tensions will increase and become more violent.

  5. Walter Dingwall September 20, 2019 at 5:26 pm #

    It is interesting for a spokeswoman for the Chinese government would say “passionately loving the motherland should be taught in the first class in school,” regarding the Chinese education system. Three weeks ago marked the eightieth anniversary of when a country, noticing a potential dilution in their tradition, went to war with part of it rallying calls included the pride and protection of their “fatherland,” urging the people to nationalize. Now, China in the twentieth century is not completely comparable to Germany as the Great Depression transitioned into the Second World War. They are very far from impoverished and are geographically larger. What still stands is the country’s connection between politics, religion and education. These are normally separate entities, but the ruling communist ideology of China allows for the President and other government officials to be forceful and near tyrannical in keeping their traditions, which are not necessarily in the peoples’ best interests.
    In the case brought by Tiffany May’s article, Hong Kong, the grand port governed and economically separate from the mainland of China, does not wish to have the youth so heavily influenced by the mainland government’s interests. Their liberal studies course intends to ”instill critical thinking skills and covers topics ranging from Hong Kong identity to climate change,” an already synthesized ideal for western education systems. This ideal makes the people aware of the idea that we are people of Earth, just humans, living among other humans, and that we should be able to see people as people, not confined to a more general group. This allows for people to more safely speak in terms of their own ideas.
    Now, in 2019, it might seem outrageous for there to be constant police barricades blocking off groups of people of color, or those in the LGBTQ+ community. There are many mosques and synagogues around, in which, the Muslim and Jewish people may practice their religion properly, outside of the home. Well, it has only been for four years that gay marriage has ben legal in every state. It has only been fifty-five years since segregation had been abolished in the United States. This is not to say with these laws, everything will run smoothly, without resistance to the change. There is still racial and sexual orientation division showing up with varying severity. The point is, it takes time for things to get better.
    It takes time for safety to grow and for the people to come to greater agreement in living amongst each other. The U.S. is getting farther from the Stonewall and Watts riots, and with the growth of youth that are more broadened in their education and the lessening of older folks of deeper set belief in traditions and ethics, it should be an inevitability that more and more people will be safer in their lifestyles.
    The liberal studies course in Hong Kong may be seen as a vehicle to enable radicalism for now. The pro-mainland Chinese are in great opposition to the practices of broad, objective, critical thinking. This may be due to the truths of Chinese law and politics and economics to be found. But, it is the truth and the ability to seek the truth that has strengthened western countries. It is truth seeking that allows for change in government. It protects the people from being exploited by government officials, or corporations and religious bodies, by bringing them to a greater consciousness.
    These are the beginnings of great progression, and if history is any offering of prediction, the beginnings are often the most difficult, jarring, bloody points. It is time that will let the Chinese moderate and reach the standards of tolerance that the democratic, western nations have come to and are expanding upon. With such economic power and growth, it is important that it does not continue to be passed around to people who think in ways becoming more and more outdated as the rest of the world moves forward. It would be dangerous for a country to be so powerful and be running in conflict with most of the world. Germany has been apologizing for seventy years for the narrow thinking of an old power, it would be in the Chinese’ interest to prevent a similar demise.

  6. Samuel Kihuguru September 27, 2019 at 1:48 am #

    The importance of education in creating a better informed and critically thinking individual capable of judging moral issues and influencing favorable change in areas of injustice and blind traditional practices, is unmatched in any society. Since America’s first days, before the founding of this country, education has been an American value. In Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere, colonists recognized their collective responsibility to educate their children. They wrote into law that children, both wealthy and poor, must be taught to read and write and to learn a skill – like blacksmithing, weaving, or shipbuilding – to secure their economic independence. As democracy took root in early America, public education became not just an ideal, but an imperative. An enlightened public, the founders believed, was essential to self-government. Thomas Jefferson once wrote that we must “educate and inform the whole mass of the people” because they are the only sure reliance for the preservation of liberty. What strikes most to me about this article, are not the efforts to oppose or reform the Hong Kong curriculum to meet patriotic Beijing standards, but the scale of class boycott protests for universal suffrage that students from universities and high schools across the city have planned to ramp up pressure on the government. This beautiful display of hundreds of flashlights raised high was a testament to the Chinese students in the Hong Kong liberal arts curriculum who are actively using their knowledge and understanding of the Hong Kong identity crisis, climate change, the history of pro-democratic reformers and even the nature of Chinese communism to build analytic skills and minds for positive and innovative change. Emphasizing ideological control above all else, does little to create a capable and enlightened generation. “Love for the motherland” as Xu Luying, a spokeswoman for the Chinese government’s Hong Kong put it, does little to move the country forward when Beijing decides to only focusing on the party’s economic achievements – withholding a plethora of civil offenses, a crack down on any impression of democracy and a tumultuous history. Ironically, to present a distorted version of history, they argue, is to undermine the intellectual rigor of a system that has consistently ranked among the top in global education indexes. This application of critical thinking in the space of liberal arts is not only applicable for this generation. Government officials and teachers in the public sector schools must realize that this form of peaceful protest against the wrongs of China’s past is in fact, a sign of love for the motherland from citizens who believe in the best qualities of their nation and their remedies for its ills. With this new world also comes a new conviction that individuals can determine their own future — that their birth or circumstance no longer limited their potential.

  7. Edward S October 8, 2019 at 9:55 pm #

    China, under the rule of President Xi Jinping has been under a campaign to rid the country of pro Western ideologies and has already succeeded in re-writing Chinese history to suit political and national gains. Back in 2017 for example, Cambridge University Press recently reported that it had removed some 300 articles from a Chinese website because the government had threatened to disallow Cambridge from being given access to Chinese journals (Pomfret 2017). Strikingly many of the articles were not even recent, originating from stories such as the Great Leap Forward and the Tiananmen Square crackdown. China has also denied visas from Westerners who have shown support against the government’s actions.

    China has clearly been on a mission to continuously try to push their agenda on Hong Kong and perhaps one of the slower but easier ways to go about changing opinions is by changing school curriculums and therefore creating a newer generation of Hong Kong citizens who are pro Communist party. Indeed to re-write history is to administer a form of control over the Chinese citizenry. For example under Xi Jinping, the government has focused on re-writing the history of the Qing dynasty which had originated from the 1600s and through a campaign of conquest had invaded all of China. By the late 1600s Qing control expanded to Taiwan, Mongolia, Tibet, and the Xinjiang province. The Communist Party however wishes to re-write this age of conquest and instead depict the creation of the Qing dynasty as a peaceful process. Xi has focused on manipulating history by promoting those Communist historians who support his narrative and also undermining foreign historians who are termed “historical nihilists”. Creating a message that portrays the expansion of the Qing dynasty as a peaceful expansion will actually bolster a historical narrative to lay claim to Taiwan, Tibet, Xinjiang, and the South China Sea. Indeed Pamela Crossley who is a history professor at Dartmouth comments that ”historical nihilism” is nothing more than a denial that the past is fundamentally a resource to be plundered by the present” (Crossley 2019)

    Crossley, P.K. 2019. Xi’s China is Steamrolling Its Own History. Foreign Policy. Retrieved from

    Pomfret, J. 2017. China’s odious manipulation of history is infecting the West. Washington Post. Retrieved from

  8. Tiffany Lyn October 16, 2019 at 8:57 pm #

    China’s young adult population is growing restless from their government’s ideological control through education. Liberal studies curriculum in China are a failure. Students have been protesting this failure and the government has responded by depoliticizing campuses rather than addressing the problem head on. The city’s education bureau also taught teachers to say they don’t know the answer to “difficult questions.” “Difficult questions” most likely means any question that opposes Chinese nationalism. China’s goal is to nurture nationalism and loyal citizens by implementing slogans into elementary school curriculum. Students are taught a falsified version of Chinese history. Liberal arts teacher, Hoi Wai-hang said, “They want to make young people dumber and less aware.”
    This article was interesting to me because my grandpa immigrated from China to Jamaica to escape Communism. China’s government clearly fears any group who opposes the country/government. Because of this fear they oppress political and educational freedom. China has a very high poverty rate and almost no middle class. Its GDP per capita is only $9000. Its education system/infrastructure aren’t developed in all parts of the country. Realistically speaking, China will never be democratic like America. Xi Jinping is an authoritarian ruler who intends to foster many generations of patriotic citizens. I cannot see an entire country changing their constitution, ideology, education system or values because of protests alone. Teachers are fully compliant with the education bureau’s demands; therefore, high school students cannot be taught the curriculum they deserve. China will succeed in their efforts to keep citizens loyal because they are uninformed and fear the repercussions of going against the government. I don’t think people will stop their efforts/protesting but the government has much more power than a group of citizens.
    Many Americans take their simple freedoms for granted. We are encouraged to openly discuss politics, current events and internal issues. It is okay to disagree with our government and acknowledge its flaws, but in China education is one-sided. Certain parts of Chinese history just aren’t discussed in the mainland. China fears what fully educated citizens will do with their knowledge, so they are suppressing liberal arts. In Hong Kong people are knowledgeable about Chinese history, including events like Tiananmen Square. They will be able to create some change within their community and possibly in other progressive cities.

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