Parents worry about worship of motherland

27th June 1997 at 01:00
Patriotism and the economy are to set the educational tone in the new Hong Kong. Yojana Sharma reports.

Thousands of Hong Kong children will break up early for the summer to take part in next week's hand-over celebrations, staging gymnastics shows, displays of martial arts and dancing.

However, some parents have objected to their children welcoming the People's Liberation Army as it crosses the border from China on June 30.

Some 50 primary and secondary schools close to the Chinese border were sent letters in late May by the district authorities and the Beijing-backed Celebration of Reunification of Hong Kong with China organisation, requesting that parents allow their children to welcome the army.

But parents say that, unlike other hand-over activities, this amounts to a political act. Memories of the PLA's brutal crushing of pro-democracy student activists in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in June 1989 are still strong. This year many parents took their children to a candle-light vigil in a Hong Kong park, believing it to be the last time they will be able openly to commemorate the anniversary of the uprising.

Parents are not alone in rejecting patriotic displays. Teachers are also worried about patriotic education in the classroom.

In China every citizen is expected to be patriotic and Chinese leaders see it as a vital part of nation-building after the hand-over.

Mr Tung Chi-hwa, shortly before he was selected as Hong Kong's chief executive, pledged to introduce patriotic education to schools. "We have to start quickly to promote children's understanding of the mother country, " he said.

Mr Au Pak-kuen, vice-president of the Professional Teachers' Union, is wary: "Letting our kids know only the things the rulers would like them to know is indoctrination, not education. Children must learn about China and find their own identity. But it would be inappropriate if China's call for nationalism meant preventing children making their own judgments."

Mr Pang Kin-Fu, a researcher at the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups, says if a sense of Chinese identity exists among Hong Kong children it is more cultural and ethnic rather than political. Under the colonial education system little was taught about China so it is hardly surprising that children do not identify with China.

A recent survey by Hong Kong's Baptist University found almost two-thirds of respondents described themselves as Hong Kong Chinese or Hong Kongers. Only 31 per cent see themselves as Chinese.

The proportion of Hong Kongers rose to 80 per cent for those under the age of 30, the majority of whom were born here, unlike their parents who fled China. Less than 3 per cent described themselves as British.

Kindergarten children are already learning the Chinese national anthem and new education department guidelines insist that they are told that they are Chinese. From kindergarten to age 12 children will be taught patriotism defined as "the recognition and sense of belonging to China".

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