By Thomas Hon Wing Polin
A notable feature of Hong Kong’s Black Terror protests in the latter half of 2019 was the youth of their participants. Of the 7,165 arrested by police, nearly half were teenagers, with the youngest only 11.
The phenomenon points to a fundamental breakdown of Hong Kong’s civic education, both in schools and at home. It is particularly puzzling from a macro viewpoint. The emotional, psychological fuel for the protests is, above all, a visceral hatred of the Communist Party of China. That’s complemented by an entirely superficial reverence for all things Western, notably political model and values.
The fact, however, is that Hong Kong’s teenaged generation grew up during a time when their nation, China, experienced its best, most progressive period since the Qing Dynasty began going downhill two centuries ago. Indeed, the epic achievements of the People’s Republic the past four decades — in economic growth, cultural development and global standing — are universally recognized, even by many anti-Communists. All that should be reason for young Hong Kong Chinese to take great pride in their motherland.
Yet the opposite is true. Why? What accounts for this apparent perversion?
The first major factor is Hong Kong’s educational system. Since the SAR’s reunification with the mainland in 1997, the schools have been dominated by the anti-Beijing Professional Teachers’ Union. As a result, sometimes in primary school and certainly by secondary school, students are subject to in-school influences that incline them to develop negative views of mainland China. This was especially true after Sinophobic elements hijacked the mandatory, multi-year “Liberal Studies” and essentially turned it into a platform for anti-Beijing, pro-West political propaganda.
By the time students reached university, they were already thoroughly brainwashed. Similarly neocolonialist ecosystems at the tertiary level further entrenched such attitudes. It was no accident that local university campuses were hotbeds of violence during the Black Terror.
Another factor has been the support, active or indirect, by many Hong Kong parents for their children’s perspectives and activities. Having come of age during the cataclysm of China’s Cultural Revolution, they have an in-built fear and distrust of the Communist Party. Quite a few passed their mindsets onto their offspring, creating fertile ground for Sinophobia to become entrenched in the schools.
Teenage peer pressures are another powerful catalyst, making a contempt for the mainland and its people something “fashionable.” There is also the cynical and systematic manipulation of naive young minds by the behind-the-scenes forces organizing and directing the Black Terror.
Any attempt to retrieve Hong Kong’s youngsters from the cesspit of despising their own country must begin with the schools. And that means firm supervision by government educational authorities to stop, clean up the severe distortions that have accumulated over two decades. Up to now, the relevant officials have been lax, to put it mildly. There is little time to lose, as the rot is already advanced.
In terms of specifics, the authorities must ensure that politics, when taught to young minds, must be presented in a balanced manner that fosters knowledge and encourages critical thinking. It must not become ideological indoctrination. As everywhere else in the world, the national language (Mandarin) and national history must be made compulsory subjects. The perversity of teaching youngsters to hate their nation without knowing or understanding it has to be stopped — decisively.
If they see such reforms unfolding, Hong Kong parents may become more hesitant about supporting school activism, and return to encouraging their kids to focus on the proper activity of learning. After all, specializing in political sloganeering and protesting will not help a young person either understand the world or make a living in it.
The author is a veteran international journalist. He was a senior editor at Asiaweek and founding editor of Yazhou Zhoukan.