Academic journal article China Perspectives

Lessons in Patriotism

Academic journal article China Perspectives

Lessons in Patriotism

Article excerpt

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Fifteen years after the former British colony's "reunification with the motherland" on 1 July 1997, the relationship between mainland China and Hong Kong remains as uneasy and conflict-ridden as ever. An in- creasingly porous border, evidenced by an influx of mainlanders from day- trippers to real estate speculators, as well as what is seen as the growing political influence of Beijing, have sparked popular fear in the Special Ad- ministrative Region (SAR) over the imminent "mainlandisation" (daluhua ...) of the city. Deepened resentment towards the mainland has also be- come more openly and unabashedly expressed: In February 2012, a full- page advertisement was printed on the local tabloid Apple Daily condemning mainlanders as "locusts," in retaliation for Peking University professor Kong Qingdong's provocative remarks that Hong Kongers are "bas- tards" and "running dogs of the British government."(1)

These recent flare-ups bring to the fore deeply rooted issues of belonging and national identity in China's post-colonial city. According to a survey conducted in June 2012, the society's self-identification as Chinese dropped to a 13-year low on the eve of the 15th anniversary of reunification.(2) Peo- ple in the SAR identify themselves most strongly as "Hong Kongers" (Xi- anggangren ...), then in descending order as "members of the Chinese nation" (Zhonghua minzu yifenzi ...), "Asians" (Yazhouren ...), "Chinese" (Zhongguoren ...) and "global citizens" (shijie gong- min ...). Worryingly for Beijing, identification with the title "nationals of the People's Republic of China" (Zhonghua renmin gongheguo guomin ...) is found to be the lowest of all. For youths under the age of 30, it is found that the number of those who view themselves as "Hong Kongers" is 60-72 percent higher than those who identify themselves as "Chinese."(3)

It is at this perhaps unpropitious moment that the programmatic intro- duction of patriotic lessons under the banner of guomin jiaoyu(...), or national education, was announced by the Hong Kong government. The controversial decision contributed to one of the city's most successful civil movements since the handover and stimulated productive probes into the enduring question of what it means to be a "patriotic," "motherland-em- bracing" national subject in a city where colonial legacies such as the rule of law remain defensively treasured. What emerged from the debates also highlights the tensions embedded in such seemingly unproblematic notions as the city's "necessary integration" with the mainland.

This article analyses the issues of belonging, national identity, and citi- zenship through an examination of the national education debate and looks ahead to the future of mainland-Hong Kong relations in the 18th Party Con- gress era.

Learning to love China

During his visit to Hong Kong in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of reunification in 2007, President Hu Jintao highlighted the need to strengthen national education for youths in order to "pass on Hong Kong compatriots' glorious tradition of loving the country and loving Hong Kong" (aiguo aigang de guangrong chuantong ...). This manifest instruction from Beijing was swiftly heeded by the administration headed by then Chief Executive Donald Tsang. The budget for national education wit- nessed a staggering six-fold rise from HK$5 million in 2006 to HK$35.3 million in 2007.(4)This figure further increased to HK$60 million in 2008.(5)In policy addresses, Tsang pledged to give greater weight to elements of national edu- cation in primary and secondary curricula. In 2007, the government vowed to encourage more schools to assemble flag guard teams and promote flag- raising ceremonies. A year later, a National Education Funding Scheme for Young People was launched to subsidise large-scale events targeting young- sters. The subsidy quota for secondary students to participate in mainland ex- change trips was raised from 5,000 per year to 37,000. …

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