Last week, on 4 February 2021, the Hong Kong Education Bureau (HK EDB) issued a new set of regulations for schools pursuant to the novel Law of the People’s Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (a.k.a. the Hong Kong National Security Law) which was implemented in June 2020. These new school rules outline not only how to educate students on national security measures, but they also, to the fears of Hong Kong citizens, exhibit a transition to the “patriotic education” seen in mainland China. Below are statements made by an EDB spokesperson regarding the new regulations:
“Safeguarding national sovereignty, security and development interests is the constitutional duty of the HKSAR. This is also the common responsibility of all Hong Kong residents (including school staff and students). The National Security Law is enacted for the purpose of preventing, suppressing and imposing punishment for acts and activities that endanger national security. In particular, preventive efforts should be accorded priority in order to minimise the need for suppression and punishment. As far as prevention and education are concerned, schools have a significant role to play.”
While at the surface ensuring national security should be a primary consideration in every country, it is extremely concerning that, to Hong Kong leaders, “acts and activities that endanger national security” and “illegal and violent acts” include the exercise of political freedoms such as freedom of assembly and the right to protest, both of which have been leveraged by Hong Kong youth and harshly punished by security forces within recent years. In 2019 and 2020, while students and activists protested China’s unlawful encroachment on Hong Kongers’ rights via the problematic extradition bill – which would permit individuals in Hong Kong arrested for political ‘crimes’ to be extradited and tried in China’s corrupt judicial system – police forces responded with live bullets and tear gas. A similar disproportionate and violent response was launched against protesters who rejected the National Security Law in 2020. In response to the increasing activism among Hong Kong’s youth, Chief Executive Lam criticized the nation’s educational system for “infiltration of politics into school campuses” and “liberal curriculum” which “mislead” students into political involvement and protesting.
“Schools should ensure all school staff to uphold professional ethics, abide by the law and observe the code of conduct acceptable to the society; step up the prevention and suppression of teaching or other school activities that are in breach of laws, prevent and deal with political or other illegal activities from permeating schools; and help students gain a correct understanding of the National Security Law and the important concepts covered by national security, so as to facilitate students’ learning of the spirit of the rule of law, and enhance their national security and law-abiding awareness, thereby nurturing them to become good law-abiding citizens.”
Under these new regulations which seek to indoctrinate Hong Kong youth into political inactivity and suppression, children as young as six years old will learn lessons that essentially worship “Chinese history, Chinese culture, and moral education” by singing the national anthem, admiring the flag, and praising the People’s Liberation Army. Schools will be distributed new educational materials including books and videos which incorporate national security ‘teaching’ into unrelated lessons such as music, biology, and geology. In effect, Hong Kong adolescents will be shaped and molded into robotic ‘model citizens’ that never raise criticisms about the efficacy, legitimacy, or moral integrity of its governing institutions – even when such criticisms are warranted – and never take action to make political reforms.
For students and educators who are found to be engaging in political activities that allegedly contravene the new school regulations and National Security Law, the implications are daunting. Back in 2019, college professors and schoolteachers involved in the political protests had their personal information doxxed and their jobs terminated simply for acting according to their political will. It is reasonable that according to these newer and stricter regulations, teachers and students will be punished for a wide range of normal political activities that should be respected and protected.
Hong Kong activist Lester Shum revealed that he relates to the worries of Hong Kong citizens who are migrating to foreign countries to escape the increasing repression in Hong Kong:
“If i put myself in their shoes, I can understand the fear and worry that they have about the next generation. Children cannot reasonably have bright prospects or a bright future in Hong Kong, and so in order to protect that … it is understandable why people want to leave.”