A protest attended by over 100,000 people was reportedly held in Hong Kong Friday against national education classes. Leung Chun-ying, chief executive of Hong Kong, announced Saturday night that schools can decide for themselves whether to start the national education classes. The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government has made a concession.
The strong reaction in Hong Kong against national education classes is strange. It might be out of concern by a few Hong Kong residents that the "one country, two systems" policy may evolve into "one system." The worry that Hong Kong politics could be assimilated by the mainland cannot be dispelled. The Hong Kong opposition sparked such concerns this time.
There is nothing odd about starting national education in Hong Kong, since it had been colonized for over a century. But since this year, national education has been labeled as an attempt to brainwash Hong Kong people. A few sentences, selected from a number of textbooks, have been presented as the core content of the program to highlight the difference in values with Hong Kong.
The explanation given by the HKSAR government failed to convince opponents, even though the compilation and the selection process for the textbooks are open. An educational issue has been hyped by opponents as a battle of values between Hong Kong and the mainland that will have a great impact on freedom and democracy in Hong Kong.
The concession by the HKSAR government has appeased protesters. But we are surprised by the strong emotions and lack of rationality in Hong Kong society. On this issue, Hong Kong appears to be like Cairo one year ago, rather than a developed democratic society.
Surely the policymakers underestimated the sensitivity of the issue. The national education program has been promoted without careful planning. Even in the mainland, the time when authorities decide everything is gone.
The worries expressed by some Hong Kong residents are understandable. However, they need to be clear that the mainland has no intention of assimilating Hong Kong. Mainlanders are willing to see Hong Kong maintain its character. It is in the interests of all Chinese. But people from the mainland want to see Hong Kong society accept its return. They are quite uncomfortable with a few Hong Kong people's nostalgia for its colonial past and sense of superiority against mainlanders.
National education textbooks are an issue for Hong Kong, but to the mainland, it represents a bigger question of how Hong Kong society identifies itself. The protest has triggered complicated feelings in mainland society.