China’s Minister of Education Chen Baosheng has said that the Hong Kong government has a responsibility to implement national education, and said that the appearance of Hong Kong independence was linked to education.

In an interview with Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK in Beijing, Chen said: “This trend of thought [of Hong Kong independence], does it have to do with education? Of course it does. The main mission of education is to shape people’s hearts and… shape Hong Kong’s future.”

chen baosheng
Photo: Screenshot/RTHK.

“So-called national education means it has to do with citizens’ identity, ethnic values, national values, and personal values… it is the duty of the SAR government [to implement it].”

Chen denied that patriotic education was brainwashing, and said that there was “no reason” for critics to be worried. He added that, in order to implement the subject, the role of teachers was imperative. He said teachers should first be patriotic and recognise the country, and recommended that the SAR government should allow teachers’ groups to correctly “learn about the country’s situation.”

He said that China’s education ministry was willing to help the Hong Kong government, though it was up to the SAR authorities as to whether to use mainland curricula.

Civic education principles

In response, Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said it was the first time  in memory that the minister had publicly spoken about Hong Kong’s education policies, though he was responding to a question from reporters.

Ip said that education was under Hong Kong jurisdiction under One Country, Two Systems, and therefore the minister’s comments were “inappropriate,” regardless of the content.

He said that Hong Kong should implement national education, but with notable differences from the mainland approach. He said Hong Kong teachers should take a professional approach, and that such education in Hong Kong should be in line with basic civic education principles.

Ip Kin-yuen. File Photo: Ip Kin-yuen, via Facebook.

“For example… we see the successes of the country’s development, but we also see that many problems arose in the process. In Hong Kong education, we should comprehensively introduce the issues to students and incorporate different viewpoints, only then can we teach students to think independently.”

He added that teachers have always respected students’ views on the ruling regime, and that local teachers have always used nationality and culture as the points of entry when teaching about national identity.

Lawmaker Tanya Chan also responded to Chan’s comments, saying that Beijing officials’ comments on matters outside of their jurisdiction would only give Hongkongers the impression that the central government was “really implementing overall jurisdiction,” and applying pressure to the education secretary, as well as teachers and students.

“Patriotic education that hides shortcomings does not help the country to develop,” she added.

The proposed introduction of patriotic education in local schools sparked large-scale protests in 2012 led by activist Joshua Wong’s Scholarism. The government ultimately backed down from making the subject compulsory.

Ideological control in high schools

According to RTHK, the Minister of Education also cited a study showing that, over the past five years – after ideological and political theory classes were strengthened in Chinese high schools – 97 per cent of students expressed loyalty to the Communist Party with Xi Jinping at its core.

Chen said that ideological control in high schools had been firmly grasped and that the results of patriotic education in the mainland should be applauded. He said that Xi Jinping “Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” will be added to curricula.

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.