Hong Kong Teachers Balk at New Courses on China

Article excerpt

LIFTING a decades-old taboo on teaching about post-1949 China, Hong Kong's government is revising its curriculum to give secondary school students their first lessons on the communist regime that will rule them from 1997.

Academics agree on the urgent need to prepare Hong Kong youths for China's takeover of the British colony, less than seven years away. But they differ sharply on how to do so.

Since Beijing suppressed popular protests for democracy in June 1989, liberal educators have lobbied for courses on modern China and the West that would strengthen the political literacy of youths and promote a more representative system of government in Hong Kong.

In contrast, conservative Hong Kong education authorities, eager to ensure a smooth transition to Chinese rule, are promoting uncritical courses aimed at increasing students' patriotism and identity as future citizens of the People's Republic of China, local academics say.

Trapped in the middle of the debate are Hong Kong's teachers, who say they bear the burden of deciding how to present the controversial new courses broadly outlined by the revised curricula. Many seek to emigrate before 1997 or decline to teach the new courses.

"Schools are having difficulty finding teachers" for planned courses on communist China, said one Hong Kong educator.

"When you teach post-1949 history, you are basically discussing the current regime. Teachers fear that they may say something that will be taken against them later on," said the educator, requesting anonymity.

As a result, Hong Kong school children could still remain ignorant of major events in China.

For generations, children here have created images of the vast country across the border not from textbooks, but from the often frightening stories told by refugee parents and grandparents over dinner-time bowls of rice.

"When I was in school, I didn't learn anything about post-1949 China, and everything I heard outside was extremely negative," says a Hong Kong secondary school teacher.

For more than 40 years, the British administration kept modern Chinese politics out of textbooks and classroom discussions in an attempt to minimize Beijing's influence in the colony.

The government "pretended that the history of communist China didn't exist," says Paul Morris, dean of the University of Hong Kong's faculty of education. "It was apoliticization at all costs."

Until the late 1960s, high school instruction on Chinese history was dry and dynastic, ending with the fall of the Qing Dynasty 1911. …