CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Making love of country difficult to distinguish from adulation of rulers


HONG KONG (SE): The Education Bureau of Hong Kong is pushing the introduction of the controversial National and Moral Education hard, even in the face of considerable public opposition and opposition from school teachers.

As the largest school-sponsoring body in Hong Kong, the local diocese has inevitably become embroiled in the debate.

The introduction of the new subject, which will eventually become compulsory, was announced last year.

One of the first signs of organised opposition came from a student group calling itself Scholarism, which has criticised it as brainwashing.

After the new chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, took office on July 1, the new government has insisted on pushing ahead with the introduction of the subject according to the schedule of the former administration in September this year.

Meanwhile, the public was shocked when it learned that a government subsidised handbook for the subject called, The China Model—National Conditions Teaching Handbook, heaps praise on the Communist Party in the mainland, describing it as “progressive, selfless and united.”

This enraged many parents and teachers, who then threw their support behind those opposing the introduction of the subject. 

Approximately 90,000 people took to the streets in Hong Kong on August 4 stating their objection to any form of brainwashing in the education system.

One teachers’ union even threatened to strike over the matter when the new school term begins.

Although the diocese announced that it has taken the option of delaying the introduction of the subject in its schools and taken up the opportunity of producing its own course material, concern has been expressed that its stance on the matter is vague.

An article published by UCA News on August 20 by John Mok Chit-wai, who is in his second year at the Department of Government and Public Administration at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, says that if the Church complies with the Education Bureau guidelines, he believes it would be a backward step, even if it is using its own course material.

“Catholic schools attach great importance to ethics and civic education, which emphasise care and commitment to society to breed civic awareness and to promote democracy,” Mok said.

He added, “According to the Education Bureau guidelines on the subject, the curriculum for national education also includes concepts like democracy and rule of law, but the emphasis is on national identity and patriotism.”

Mok also questioned whether the new subject is really about culture at all.

“I agree that Church-run schools here are duty-bound to teach Chinese culture,” he said.

“However, they should not create a stiff and narrow sense of national identity. The Chinese government is a one-party dictatorship and the Hong Kong government is not running under a democratic system,” he continued.

“We cannot help but think that the introduction of the subject is not being done with the best of intentions,” he noted.

While Mok admits there is an argument that it is possible to draw a distinction between love of country and love of the Communist Party, he questions whether they are really clearly distinguishable or not.

He added that we may think this can be done, but if the government does not agree, then discussions can be at cross purposes.

“When it comes to discussions on the economic success of Communist China, should it be regarded as a matter of the regime or the people?” he asked.

Mok points to the example of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, saying that it talks about patriotism, but it is not always clear exactly what is meant by this.

He pointed out that the word nation is a political concept and says that he believes that inciting nationalism in the name of patriotism is extremely dangerous.

“The subject guidelines seem to be neutral at first glance, but are in fact biased,” he said.

“Words like national identity and patriotism appear repeatedly and students are urged to learn about the effort made by the Communist leaders and the contribution they have made, as well as the country’s opportunities and challenges, while nothing is mentioned about the crimes committed by the Communist Party,” he pointed out.

“Can we say the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 were just challenges? Can we ignore the suppression of social activists and violations against religious freedom?” he asked.

Mok says that he wonders whether course materials drawn up by the Catholic Education Office can avoid the implication that Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai rate on the same level as the saints.

He said that he finds it worrying that some diocesan primary schools are reported to be set to implement the curriculum.

“Some schools require students to study Mao’s calligraphy and listen to the national anthem, March of the Volunteers, to establish a national identity,” he pointed out.

A vice president of a pro-Communist uniform group, similar to the Young Pioneers in China, was found to be the principal of a diocesan primary school and another Catholic primary school reportedly requires students to sing the Red Song.

Mok said that he finds that absurd.

He said that Catholic social teaching does not support totalitarianism or communism. “This raises doubts about whether the diocese has the determination or ability to defend the vision of Catholic education,” he said.

“Our Church must stand firm without compromise,” he said, adding that he thinks the Catholic faith should be taught within a Chinese cultural context, but must not approve dictatorship.

“The Church should make it clear that it opposes politically-oriented education,” Mok stated.

He said that he believes the Church can do its own civic education by teaching Catholic social doctrine, as well as traditional Chinese philosophies, like Confucianism and Taoism, in addition to truthfully depicting the situation of Hong Kong and mainland China.”

Mok said that this can contribute to producing leaders in society who are “the first to bear hardships and the last to enjoy comforts.”

He describes this as being his humble wish, calling it a way to do the Lord’s work.

An imbalance in educational input can place people in strange quandaries.

UCA News reported that after a rally decrying the planting of a Japanese flag on the disputed Diaoyu Islands in the port city of Wenzhou, China, on August 19, a Catholic woman calling herself Clare blogged, “This is the realisation of democracy and freedom. It is not usually allowed in China, so I cherish this chance very much.”

She continued, “It is my way of expressing patriotism, but absolutely does mean that I love the Communist Party.”

However, the following week, the authorities were less tolerant of the rallies.

No citizen of any country should be placed in a confused quandary whereby they have to pose such a question in the first place, let alone invent a confused answer to it.



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