Chief Executive Carrie Lam has urged Hongkongers and lawmakers not to interpret a mainland official’s comments on national education through “coloured lenses.”

During an interview with RTHK in Beijing, China’s Minister of Education Chen Baosheng said that the Hong Kong government had a duty to implement national education.

His comments were regarded as an attempt to interfere in Hong Kong by some lawmakers. Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen said educational matters are under Hong Kong jurisdiction according to the city’s mini-constitution.

chen baosheng
Chen Baosheng. Photo: Screenshot/RTHK.

Article 136 of the Basic Law states that the Hong Kong government shall formulate its own policies on the development and improvement of education.

At a regular press conference on Tuesday, the chief executive said she was “very surprised” at the strong responses to Chen’s comments.

“Of course it isn’t interfering with Hong Kong’s education matters,” she said in response to a reporter’s question. She described Chen’s comments as showing concern and support for Hong Kong, and said the lawmakers seemed to be “wearing coloured lenses” when interpreting his comments.

She said it was the responsibility of schools to teach students about Chinese culture, and the country’s values and development. However, relevant decisions must be made by Hong Kong authorities, within the parameters provided by the Basic Law.

carrie lam
Photo: Screenshot/RTHK.

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. However, Chinese history is set to become an independent subject in the next school year.

‘Increase understanding’

Lam said that the government would also improve other subjects to increase understanding of China’s situation, history, and culture, along with extracurricular activities.

She also recounted how she met Chen in Beijing and he was very supportive of Hong Kong education, and told her he would do anything to help the city with its work on education.

She said that he helped to facilitate work permits for Hong Kong students who graduated in the mainland and wished to stay for work, and also pledged to give Hong Kong students equal opportunities when it came to matters such as scholarships.

She added that the relationship with the central government can directly help Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity and can provide opportunities to Hong Kong youth: “I call on everyone not to continue wearing coloured lenses to view our interactions with the mainland [authorities].”

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

catherine lai

Catherine Lai

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.