Business News

In Affluent Hong Kong, Why Are People on the Streets?

Bernie Lo|Anchor, CNBC Asia Pacific

Just as the rag tag tents and moldy sofas of the 10-month-old Occupy Hong Kong movement at the HSBC building in Hong Kong are being moved out, a new sit-in erupted in past days – the Occupy Tamar protest involving around 8,000 people surrounding Government Offices in Central has gone into its 6th day.

Unlike the all-over-the-place smorgasbord of issues the Occupy HK folks fomented, this action is aimed at one focused issue: the government's effort to introduce so-called "National Education". The plan was hatched years ago during then-Chief Executive Donald Tsang's tenure, presumably because Hong Kong still lacked a sense of camaraderie with the motherland long after the 1997 handover. Indeed the latest surveys show that 15 years after the handover, record numbers of locals see themselves as Hong Kongers, rather than Chinese.

But the plan was cloaked in too much secrecy. A public consultation on the issue hasn't, ironically, been made public. As the days went by, more people decried what is widely seen as an attempt to "brainwash" with propaganda, Communist Party manifestos; primary school students, secondary students, their parents, concerned citizens, even university professors took part.

Hong Kong Chief Secretary Carrie Lam told local media "it should be about ways of nurturing our next generation to have the right attitude and know about the country."  Academics rejected this; university lecturer Jon London told the same reporters that "students should not be taught what to think." 

The concept of national education is actually only in a trial phase. The next three years is simply an introductory period. Mandatory inclusion in curriculums won't begin until 2015. And much appears to be left to individual schools to decide on how to approach the subject. For all the worries about whitewashing history and glossing over events like Tiananmen, a deputy principal at a Kowloon primary school wasn't worried, saying "sensitive issues like June 4, 1989 will not be skipped if classes need to relate to such topics"

I just wish I had this many people joining me in opposing Chemistry, Physics, Algebra, and a lot of other topics when I was in school. But then, that was the 1980's.