Back to school seldom involves hunger-striking but that’s what the start of the school year in Hong Kong looks like this autumn. For months the controversy over the introduction of national education on the curriculum has been raging on the streets of the city.
From a 90,000 strong protest in July to sit-ins and rallies to the hunger-striking teenagers outside government headquarters, Hong Kong-ers are, to say the least, unhappy about what they perceive to be brainwashing by the powers in Beijing. The teens may have had to stop their hunger strike because of health concerns but in their place veteran protesters who held the barricades during the days of labour unrest at the end of the 1960s have gallantly stepped in to take over their desperate plea.
It’s the thought of Hong Kong’s malleable young being taught pro-China propaganda that is making people so angry. The guidelines handed out to teachers that go by the title The China Model, include praise for the Communist Party while they conveniently forget to mention events such as the Tiananmen Square massacre.
But besides the threat to Hong Kong-ers rights to independent and critical learning, the issues at stake looms larger. The new chief executive CY Leung who took office this summer was unpopular before the election and his ratings keep plummeting. Seen as a closet communist and staunchly pro-China, Hong Kong-ers haven’t warmed to the CE. They see him as a pawn handpicked by Beijing and someone who won’t stand up to the Central government’s encroachment on Hong Kong’s civic life and political affairs.
So far, he refuses to back down on the national education issue, leaving Hong Kong in an unhealthy stalemate. The city’s leaders are stuck between pleasing their constituents (though they need not worry too much about them considering that universal suffrage doesn’t exist here) and the Chinese government.
A stable economic entity for years, Hong Kong is portraying a different side of itself, a side that says “no thanks” to the erosion of the freedoms. It’s finally saying “no” to the top-down approach of government, which is the only style of government Hong Kong has ever known. Installing a Beijing puppet to lead is one thing but to drag Hong Kong’s children into the machinery of propaganda is simply too much for the citizens of Hong Kong to stomach.
The next steps are unclear so long as the local government refuses to budge. What is certain is that back to school in Hong Kong will be a very different affair than what it has ever been.