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What’s national may not 
necessarily be moral


As the government of Hong Kong retires to consider its verdict on the Moral and National Education Consultation Paper, educationalists ponder the possible outcomes of such a course being introduced.

The lumping of the two words moral and national together is one concern, as the very title suggests that there is something moral about national pride or patriotism, whereas in reality, this is a long bow to draw.

In a free society, the way people express their love for country is not stipulated.

While diong a certain amount to encourage positive community attitudes towards specific government agendas is commonplace, it should be designed to be information-giving and, to be constructive, display bias openly.

Teachers are expected to encourage students to respect and hold dear the values of the land in which they were born or are living, and warts and all history plays an important role in developing a student’s ability to critically analyse events and attitudes of the past, which is vital in developing a positive approach to the present and future.

National hopes and aspirations are open to scrutiny and the old adage, “If you want to know something about the future, look into the past,” becomes an extremely important dynamic in encouraging students’ love of country.

Syllabuses in moral education used in Chinese universities suggest topics like the pursuit of harmony, looking after your health, developing honesty in relations with others and care for the environment within the context of contributing to the welfare of the state.

While these may well be worthy aspirations, they are behavioural in nature and gain or lose merit depending on the context in which they are presented, as the tag moral imputes a guilt to failure in any given area.

While these may be important ethical standards, the word moral relates to the relationship of a person and their free actions to God, or the natural order of creation, in the context of the natural or created dignity of both humankind and nature.

This does not relate to the state as an entity, but rather describes certain community responsibilities prompted by the recognition of their innate God-given beauty, dignity and sanctity. Transgression is described in terms of broken relationship, which disfigures the natural or created beauty, and holds what is life-giving in disregard.

Using the word moral in connection with a programme designed to encourage support for national aspirations, as described by a government or ruling body, can be insidious, as it presents a distorted relationship.

While the Hong Kong government has shown its willingness to back off on introducing a secondary curriculum next year, it seems to be stonewalling on primary. 

Today’s 10-year-olds will be in their late 40s when the special administrative region loses its current status and becomes simply another part of China. They will constitute the dominant, comfortable middle class and, if not well groomed to fit in with mainland attitudes, the juxtaposing of moral and national could suggest guilt rather than disorientation.

What university students in China refer to as propaganda class presents religion as superstition. Religious school sponsoring bodies in Hong Kong are pointing out that a course in Moral and National Education would compete with religion, both for class time and the hearts and minds of students.

There is need for a deeper scrutiny of this proposal. JiM