In Hong Kong, China again looks to ‘pa­tri­otic ed­u­ca­tion’

An­other at­tempt to ex­port na­tion­al­ism risks con­firm­ing to many that their iden­tity is un­der threat

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY ANNA FI­FIELD­[email protected]­ Liu Yang con­trib­uted to this re­port.

BEI­JING — The boy in the gray uni­form yelled a heart­felt cry: “Al­though we are young, we are an un­yield­ing Lit­tle Red Army!” he told his pint-size com­rades. “I be­lieve that as long as we are united, there is no dif­fi­culty that can­not be over­come.”

The scene was not from a 1930s-era drama on China’s equiv­a­lent of the History Chan­nel. It was a play staged this past month by pupils of Deng­shikou Ele­men­tary School, at the China Na­tional Theatre for Chil­dren in Bei­jing.

Later in the show, called “Lit­tle Red Army,” the stu­dents sang: “Lift­ing my head, I see the Big Dip­per, deep in my heart, I miss Mao Ze­dong . . .”

Per­form­ers rang­ing from kinder­gart­ners to univer­sity stu­dents are act­ing out themes of pa­tri­o­tism, tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture and core so­cial­ist values dur­ing three weeks of per­for­mances in the cap­i­tal.

The pro­gram is part of a broader ef­fort by the rul­ing Com­mu­nist Party, ac­cel­er­ated un­der the lead­er­ship of Xi Jin­ping, to in­still na­tion­al­ist fer­vor in young Chi­nese and grow a whole gen­er­a­tion loyal to him.

“Pa­tri­otic ed­u­ca­tion is a fun­da­men­tal part of ed­u­ca­tion,” said Gao Xiaomei, who had brought her 9-year-old daugh­ter to see the per­for­mance. “Kids should learn th­ese kinds of lessons from the bot­tom of their hearts while they are very lit­tle.”

Her friend Zhang Meili, whose daugh­ter is also 9, chimed in. “If kids don’t love their coun­try, then how can they love their par­ents?” she asked. “I think the coun­try has pro­vided a re­ally good ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem. China is so ad­vanced to­day.”

Such sen­ti­ments are wide­spread in China.

Now, as the Com­mu­nist Party strug­gles to re­spond to months of protests in Hong Kong against China’s creep­ing con­trol, it has de­cided that the city’s young people need some of this fer­vor. Af­ter en­coun­ter­ing stiff re­sis­tance to a pre­vi­ous at­tempt to in­tro­duce pa­tri­otic ed­u­ca­tion in Hong Kong schools, it plans to try again.

“We will strengthen na­tional ed­u­ca­tion for Hong Kong and Ma­cao people, es­pe­cially civil ser­vants and youth . . . to boost their na­tional con­scious­ness and pa­tri­otic spirit,” Shen Chun­yao, a top party of­fi­cial, said af­ter a con­clave last month, as the protests in Hong Kong raged.

That re­solve is only likely to strengthen af­ter vot­ers in Hong Kong de­liv­ered a re­buke to Bei­jing in lo­cal elec­tions last week­end, when pro-democ­racy can­di­dates cap­tured more than 80 per­cent of seats.

Since the foun­da­tion of the People’s Repub­lic in 1949, China has pro­moted its par­tic­u­lar fla­vor of com­mu­nist ide­ol­ogy through pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions.

The en­deavor took on a new di­men­sion af­ter the Tianan­men Square up­ris­ing in 1989, when mil­lions of Chi­nese took to the streets to call for greater free­doms, and the col­lapse of the Soviet Union. China’s lead­ers be­gan pro­mot­ing pa­tri­otic ed­u­ca­tion to in­still na­tional pride and loy­alty to the party in younger gen­er­a­tions.

Th­ese ef­forts have ac­cel­er­ated in the seven years since Xi took con­trol of the party. He has tur­bocharged historical in­ter­pre­ta­tions that por­tray China as the vic­tim of cruel Western and Ja­panese

en­e­mies. Through­out the trade war with the United States, au­thor­i­ties have char­ac­ter­ized the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion as hell­bent on stop­ping the Chi­nese re­ju­ve­na­tion en­vi­sioned in Xi’s “Chi­nese dream.”

“Thought work” be­gins in kinder­garten, when 5-year-olds play games such as “My Coun­try Is a Gar­den” to cul­ti­vate pa­tri­otic spirit, and sing na­tion­al­is­tic an­thems such as “Me and My Moth­er­land.” Chil­dren take field trips to mu­se­ums com­mem­o­rat­ing the foun­da­tion of the party and the vic­tory over im­pe­rial Ja­pan.

The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment is­sued new in­struc­tions this sum­mer for teach­ing ele­men­tary and mid­dle school stu­dents “to love the party, the coun­try, so­cial­ism and the people.” Then it an­nounced plans in Au­gust to make Xi Jin­ping Thought, the au­thor­i­tar­ian leader’s guid­ing phi­los­o­phy, a manda­tory so­cial science course in high schools.

Spe­cial at­ten­tion is paid to uni­ver­si­ties, given stu­dents’ role in spear­head­ing the 1989 protests. They are now sub­ject to ide­o­log­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion fo­cused on “build­ing loy­alty to the party and pass­ing on the her­itage of so­cial­ism,” ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial out­line. Some 30 uni­ver­si­ties, gov­ern­ments and min­istries host re­search in­sti­tutes ded­i­cated to the study of Xi Jin­ping Thought.

Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties be­lieve that three decades of pa­tri­otic ed­u­ca­tion have been re­mark­ably suc­cess­ful in mold­ing a gen­er­a­tion of loyal cit­i­zens, an­a­lysts say.

An in­flu­en­tial co­hort of Chi­nese In­ter­net users are so na­tion­al­is­tic they will cas­ti­gate an NBA man­ager or fash­ion la­bels into apol­o­giz­ing for any per­ceived in­sult to China. They have also shown dis­dain for their prodemoc­racy peers in Hong Kong.

“I think the Chi­nese pro­pa­ganda ma­chine is do­ing quite well with what we call the ‘ri­ot­ers’ in Hong Kong,” said a Chi­nese aca­demic who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss the sen­si­tive sit­u­a­tion. “People in Guangzhou, Bei­jing, Shang­hai, people are not sym­pa­thetic to

Hong Kong.”

En­cour­aged by this success on the tightly con­trolled main­land, the party is plan­ning an­other at­tempt to ex­port a ver­sion of this cur­ricu­lum to Hong Kong — where con­cerns over the ero­sion of free speech and rel­a­tive po­lit­i­cal free­doms un­der­pin a wi­den­ing back­lash against Bei­jing.

It is fo­cus­ing more on “one coun­try” than on “two sys­tems.”

“What’s hap­pened in Hong Kong in re­cent months has been a big sur­prise to lead­ers in China, so they’re try­ing to find out the rea­son why Hong Kong be­came so anti-China or so anti-Chi­nese gov­ern­ment,” said Zheng Wang, a Se­ton Hall Univer­sity pro­fes­sor who spe­cial­izes in iden­tity and na­tion­al­ism.

“They be­lieve that be­cause the people, es­pe­cially the young people, in Hong Kong never re­ceived pa­tri­otic ed­u­ca­tion, they lack this kind of na­tional iden­tity,” Wang said. “But Hong Kong is to­tally dif­fer­ent to China, so I be­lieve they will en­counter very strong re­sis­tance, just like in 2012.”

Bei­jing’s last at­tempt, seven years ago, back­fired spec­tac­u­larly. A quar­ter-cen­tury af­ter Bri­tain re­turned Hong Kong to China, Bei­jing tried to in­tro­duce lessons to foster greater ap­pre­ci­a­tion of main­land China and pro­mote the Com­mu­nist Party as a “pro­gres­sive, self­less and united rul­ing group.”

The plan sparked vo­cif­er­ous protests, and Bei­jing was forced to back down.

Since then, Bei­jing has pro­ceeded al­most by stealth, en­cour­ag­ing study trips to the main­land and pro­mot­ing Man­darin lan­guage learn­ing in the Can­tone­ses­peak­ing ter­ri­tory. But most an­a­lysts do not ex­pect any new ef­fort to be any more suc­cess­ful this time.

“I think any kind of main­land­style pa­tri­otic ed­u­ca­tion is un­likely to suc­ceed at win­ning hearts and minds in Hong Kong,” said Jes­sica Chen Weiss, an ex­pert on Chi­nese na­tion­al­ism who teaches at Cor­nell Univer­sity.

If any­thing, the com­bi­na­tion of a new ef­fort at pa­tri­otic ed­u­ca­tion and con­tin­ued demon­stra­tions against China’s en­croach­ment is likely to pro­voke more re­sis­tance, she said.

“This would seem to be fu­el­ing that sense that Hong Kongers’ iden­tity is un­der threat,” Weiss said.

The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment has two options for mak­ing the people of Hong Kong view the main­land more fa­vor­ably, said Brian Fong, a so­cial sci­en­tist at the Ed­u­ca­tion Univer­sity of Hong Kong.

“One is to make Chi­nese iden­tity more at­trac­tive,” he said. “To do so, China should be more open, more lib­eral so as to make the Hong Kong young people think the Chi­nese sys­tem isn’t that bad.”

The se­cond op­tion is to step up con­trol over schools and the me­dia, to man­age mes­sag­ing in Hong Kong as the party does in the main­land.

“But that’s also very dif­fi­cult, be­cause Hong Kong must main­tain a suf­fi­cient de­gree of free­dom in or­der to main­tain its po­si­tion as an in­ter­na­tional fi­nan­cial cen­ter,” Fong said.

Even some in the Chi­nese es­tab­lish­ment see dif­fi­culty ahead.

“We have al­most elim­i­nated di­alects in China, but Hong Kong is dif­fer­ent,” the main­land aca­demic said. “They still speak and use Can­tonese. If we can’t even change their lan­guage, how will we change their mind-set?”


Chil­dren from Deng­shikou Ele­men­tary School in Bei­jing per­form the play “Lit­tle Red Army” at the China Na­tional Theatre for Chil­dren on the season’s open­ing night.

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