Teenagers opt for military training
Hong Kong children are following the steps of urban intellectuals who were forced into the countryside during Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution.
They are being sent to the Mainland on courses with the People's Liberation Army - but this time by choice - and, unlike the millions of urban youth forced to stay in there for up to 10 years, they only stay for a week or two.
Suen Tin-yan, 13, was part of a group of 30 Hong Kong middle-school children who donned petite army fatigues to attend an eight-day military training course in Zhongshan, just across the border from Hong Kong. The aim is to train city children to be more self-disciplined, independent and obedient.
The 12 to 14-year-olds are taught basic military skills, including shooting, marching and martial arts and they attend lectures on China's military history.
"I'd always thought the PLA soldiers were a bunch of stern people, but they are actually quite friendly," said Suen, who received a certificate as the most outstanding cadet in the group which included 120 Mainland youngsters. However, when asked if she was more likely to obey her teachers as a result of her experience, she only smiled.
Meanwhile, sixth-formers at the Ying-Wa College, spent some time with poor peasant families in China to toughen them up. "Children in rural areas (of China) are honest, hard-working and willing to learn. They do their best under poor living conditions and they are courageous in facing challenges - that is what Hong Kong children lack," said Cheng Tak-foo, programme adviser and Ying-Wa College.
However, what struck the sheltered middle-class students was the poverty and dirt. "It's difficult to imagine how the villagers can live in such conditions, there are flies and mosquitoes everywhere," said 17-year-old Vera Chan. Vera's classmates all said they were not prepared for such poor and unhygienic conditions because of all the propaganda about improving living standards and the booming economy in China.
While they were never able to get over their initial horror they came away with a respect for the farming communities. "They are warm-hearted and generous," Vera said. The students were not expected to do backbreaking work in the fields, but they were sobered by watching the women work, they said. Attending the poorly-equipped village school, only made them realise how lucky they were.
A number of international schools in the past have conducted field visits to rural areas in China, mainly as part of their geography projects, to study farming systems and the way of life, but for the Hong Kong children the primary purpose is to give them a character-forming experience, make them feel part of China, and increase their "patriotism".
"We hope the students can learn a good lesson from the Chinese children, " said Cheng.
"When I saw what it was like in China, I suddenly became worried about what would happen to Hong Kong," said one student. "I don't want Hong Kong to be like China."