The DSE history exam question has stirred controversy, leading to a rare move from the HK Education Bureau which insisted on its removal. (Photo by DotDotNews)
Recently, the history exam questions have become the center of topics in Hong Kong. On May 15, Hong Kong’s Education Bureau took the unusual step of ordering the city’s independent examinations authority to strike out a question from the Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) history paper.
All these were triggered by the offending question on May 14, which was focused on the relationship between Japan and China in the first half of the 20th century and how the question was presented. It asked if Japan “did more good than harm to China” between 1900 and 1945.
The question provided two texts to read before students answered based on their understanding and relevant knowledge. The first text was an article written in 1905 by Ume Kenjiro, a former head of Hosei University in Tokyo, describing plans to welcome Chinese students to Japan to study law and politics, and to bring about reform during the Qing dynasty. The second included extracts of a letter written in 1912 by revolutionary leader Huang Xing, seeking financial help from Inoue Kaoru, an influential Japanese politician. And after these texts came along the controversial exam question whether students agreed that “‘Japan did more good than harm to China in the period 1900-45.”
This quickly stirred outcry from many politicians and teachers who considered the question biased and downplaying the horror of the Japanese invasion of China.
The Hong Kong Education Bureau then issued a statement condemning the way the question was framed. It said the question led candidates to a biased conclusion that would “seriously hurt the feelings and dignity of the Chinese people who suffered great pain during the Japanese invasion of China.”
Hong Chan Tsui-wah, Deputy Secretary for Education, wrote a 2,500-word article published on the Education Bureau website to elaborate on the Bureau’s unprecedented decision to request that the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (HKEAA) should remove this question.
“On major issues of right and wrong, such as invasions, massacres and ethnic cleansing, we should never lead students in their basic education stage to discuss their positive values. There should not be any country that asks their students to discuss the good or harm of such events in textbooks or even in test questions,” she wrote.
The HKEAA, which stressed that any invalidation could greatly affect its existing mechanisms for assessing public exams, has said it would hold a special meeting to discuss the issue in detail before deciding on the Bureau’s request.
So Kwok-sang, the Secretary-General of the HKEAA, said that a decision would have to be made after careful discussion by the Committee and that no conclusions had been reached for now. He added that the Committee would give full consideration to various factors, including whether it would cause unfairness to the candidates. He emphasized that the Committee would hear from different sides, understand the far-reaching implications, and follow up seriously.