Hong Kong passed another small sad landmark on the path to perdition last week with the beginning of the political purge of the education business which has featured prominently on the Liaison Office’s wish list lately.

The latest victim was a Miss Lee at the Heung To Middle School in Kowloon Tong. Her offence, however, was a curious one.

Students form human chain outside Heung To Middle School on June 12, 2020. Photo: Joshua Kwan/United Social Press.

She is, or was, a music teacher. One standard method for Hong Kong music teachers to assess the progress of their students which (according to a useful academic article by BU’s Marina Wong) they do twice a year, is to ask the students to perform a tune of their own choice on whichever instrument they are torturing their neighbours with.

In January, Miss Lee was summoned to see the principal, who is apparently a man with a future, though perhaps not as Hong Kong’s most popular school principal, and she was told that concern had been expressed that her political views were not aligned with those of the school.

This is a rather alarming notion. During my brief career as a schoolteacher, I made no secret of my disreputable political views, and my department head gleefully introduced me to a pupil who shared them. Neither of us was expected to align with the school.

The evidence of Miss Lee’s turpitude was that a student or students had chosen for the purposes of their assessment the tune “Glory to Hong Kong,” a spirited march often sung in shopping malls by people in black and their sympathisers. And Miss Lee had allowed them to go ahead and warble the controversial ditty.

I must say it is not entirely clear to me what else she could have done. The student is not apparently required to give advance notice of the chosen tune. So it would hardly be fair to rule out politically contentious choices at the last minute, when it was too late to prepare something else.

Whatever the procedure, though, Miss Lee has now found herself out of a job. Some of her students protested politely round the school last week. I have no doubt this will be ignored.

The Education Secretary, no less, has said on radio that “Glory to Hong Kong” should not be played in schools because it is “propaganda.” The song “Love the Basic Law,” on the other hand, is allowed because it is “rule of law education.” This is the sort of thing you get when you put an accountant in charge of education.

There are several things about this little scene that bother me. The first one is that there is apparently no distinction between a song, which may be political because it has words, and a tune, which can not because it consists only of notes.

Hong Kong secondary student hold a banner that featured protest slogan “Five demands, not one less.” Photo: Studio Incendo.

There are a variety of songs which could be considered unsuitable for music education, or anything else, because of their words, like the Horst Wessel Song (which glorifies Nazism), We’re all off to Dublin in the Green (terrorism) or Thank Heaven for Little Girls (don’t ask).

But a tune is an innocent thing. The Horst Wessel Song, banned in Germany, actually used an existing hymn tune. Most Irish rebel songs are sung to old folk tunes. Glory to Hong Kong as a tune is simply a succession of notes. The political implications are in the ear of the paranoid listener.

Also, what is wrong with singing in praise of Hong Kong? There is nothing in Glory to Hong Kong about separatism, independence, or resisting one-party rule. There is quite a lot about freedom and democracy. Are these now regarded as subversive political values?

Last summer I spent some time in the south of Germany. This is generally known as Bavaria and is a state in the German federal system. Bavaria has its own flag, coat of arms and state anthem. It has a distinctive history (it was more or less a separate kingdom until 1870) its own version of the conservative party, and some other differences, which are cherished but in no way diminish the loyalty of Bavarians to Germany.

Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria. Photo: Jakub Fryš, via Wikimedia Commons.

Well I knew about that. The King Ludwig who had a restaurant in Tsimshatsui named after him (recently closed, alas) was the last King of Bavaria, noted for extravagant tastes in architecture (see pic) and for supporting the work of Richard Wagner.

What I did not know was that people in some parts of Bavaria indignantly deny being Bavarian. They identify themselves as Franconian. Franconia (badge, song) was a region of statelets which survived for centuries before the upheaval caused by the arrival of Napoleon, during which it became part of Bavaria. This happened between 1803 and 1806, with finishing touches put by the Congress of Vienna in 1815.

This surviving local loyalty does not mean that Franconians, any more than Bavarians, think of themselves as less German. If a large group of young people gathered in a shopping mall in Nuremberg and sang “Glory to Franconia” nobody would turn a hair. It would not be seen as subversive or secessionist. It would be seen as a legitimate expression of local loyalty, perfectly compatible with patriotism at the national level.

Photo: Lukas Messmer/HKFP.

The poison which our Secretary for Education is eagerly importing on our behalf is the Communist Party of China’s fear of any focus of loyalty other than itself: church, city, club, family, ideal. It doesn’t matter. The CCP, like the Old Testament God, is a jealous God who requires that you should have no other Gods.

Even an extravagant affection for your home is a deviation from the required passion for Pooh.

Tim Hamlett

Tim Hamlett came to Hong Kong in 1980 to work for the Hong Kong Standard and has contributed to, or worked for, most of Hong Kong's English-language media outlets, notably as the editor of the Standard's award-winning investigative team, as a columnist in the SCMP and as a presenter of RTHK's Mediawatch. In 1988 he became a full-time journalism teacher. Since officially retiring nine years ago, he has concentrated on music, dance, blogging and a very time-consuming dog.