CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 9 December 2017

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Bishop’s anthem woes

HONG KONG (SE): A saga that began at the Caritas Bazaar on November 12 with a question to Bishop Michael Yeung Ming-cheung as to whether he would instruct Catholic schools on how to sing the Chinese national anthem ended on the evening of November 16 with the bishop of Hong Kong appearing on television in the midst of a media scrum.
 
The words of Li Fei, the deputy secretary general of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, during a visit to Hong Kong insisting that people must show due respect for the national anthem, the March of the Volunteers, prompted a question from one eager journalist.
 
Bishop Yeung told the Sunday Examiner that he certainly would not issue any instructions as it is an internal matter for each school to deal with and not one that he believes could or should be legislated on.
 
However, matters came to a head at a graduation ceremony held at the Caritas Institute of Higher Education in Tseung Kwan O on November 16, when Bishop Yeung stirred resentment among a few students when he remarked that respect for the national anthem is a social norm.
 
However, he did not instruct the students to sing the anthem or lay down any hard and fast rules.
 
He told the Sunday Examiner how people feel about their own identity, be it Chinese, Hong Kong or Hong Kong-Chinese is their own business and it is up to them to express it appropriately in their own way.
 
However, the bishop moved onto slippery ground when he refused to accept a petition, but instead, advising students to hand it to the institute authorities.
 
A group then blocked his access to a lift, reminiscent of a similar incident on 16 May 2013 when the then chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, refused to accept a petition from the Hong Kong Federation of Students at the same venue.
 
Students then blocked his car from leaving the premises for over one hour.
 
Social norms are nebulous things and while respect for the national anthem may be able to be argued strongly, it can also be argued that refusing to accept a petition when offered contravenes one as well.
 
But many find the law in itself confusing. Lina Chan Lai-nga, from the Justice and Peace Commission, told the Kung Kao Po that she finds the National Flag and National Emblem Ordinance, which was added to Annex III of the Basic Law, confusing.
 
Chan said that although it sets out governing principles for Hong Kong, they are too subjective in their prescript to judge what constitutes respect and what does not.
 
The law requires that the anthem not be used in disrespectful ways, but Chan said she also sees it as yet one more clamp on freedom of speech in the special administrative region, as fear is currently ripe as to what penalties and type of criminality may yet be attributed to it.
 
For a start, she believes that it is impossible to judge whether a person is singing or listening to the anthem respectfully or not, and wonders if people are expected to drop everything and jump to attention every time it is heard playing.
 
Chan is urging people to look closely at what the law requires and believes that its very existence is in itself an infringement on the freedom of the people of Hong Kong.
 
She also believes that if its intention is to make people love the mother country, then it is barking up the wrong tree as on the contrary, is an infringement of the coveted principle of One Country Two Systems.
 
Lawrence An Chung-yuk, a former teacher, said that he thinks there are far too many grey areas in the law and that it could have implications that are much wider than what it anticipates.
 
An questioned whether teachers would be held responsible for students acting up during the playing of the anthem at schools, as the government has already threatened to issue guidelines to educational institutes regarding the anthem if it deems it necessary.
 
He also believes that it will do nothing to encourage or inspire love for the motherland.
 
A principle lecturer in law at Hong Kong University, Eric Cheung Tat-ming, noted on his Facebook on November 4 that the Hong Kong government does have to be consistent with the constitutional and legal requirements of the mainland.
 
But Cheung also believes that it is important to remove elements that are just a repeat of the Communist way of educating and expressing ideology, which can well be out of step with the cultural and educational environment in the special administrative region.

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