“One Party, Two Systems?” Examining the enforcement of National Education in Hong Kong

Protests against implementation of education standards by Mainland China

With an estimated 8 million citizens, Hong Kong is often described as ‘Asia’s World City’. A former British colony, Hong Kong returned to China in 1997 as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) as part of a reunification process outlined in the 1980’s. As such, Hong Kong was to abide by the ‘one party, two systems’ policy outlined by the former paramount leader of the People’s Republic, Deng Xiaoping.

Introduced in Primary schools this September, the National Education scheme featured controversial lessons on “appreciating Mainland China”. This was met by public outcry and mass-protests, as crowds“estimated by the police at 32,000 and by organizers at 90,000 marched on July 29 to denounce the teaching manual as ‘brainwashing’”. It is said that the system would wash over negative aspects of history, including the Tiananmen Uprising of 1989. This implementation of a Mainland Chinese belief system highlights a direct affront to the ‘one party, two systems’ slogan. With higher levels of autonomy, Hong Kong has one of the highest per capita GDP’s in the world. However, one must question whether this autonomy truly exists in practice, or merely theoretically. Whilst Hong Kong does operate with a multi-party system, elections are not open to the public – the Chief Executive is appointed by a select group of people chosen to represent the public’s interests.

Growing protests and anger from the Hong Kong public stems from the belief that this system intends to “glorify one-party rule and whitewash the communists’ crimes against the Chinese people”. These protests mark just one issue in a wider ranging discontent with the Mainland. Hong Kong is experiencing the highest perceived level of dissatisfaction with the People’s Republic of China since becoming an SAR in 1997. There have also been recent objections from the public concerning the influx of Mainland mothers crossing the border to give birth in order to gain a wide range of health and education benefits. Intensified negative feelings have perhaps established a stronger ‘Hong Kong identity’ for its citizens, and one that does not necessarily stem from being Chinese.

This brings in to question the upholding of the 50-year grace period policy –where no change is to be implemented until 2047. Is the execution of a ‘Mainland appreciation’ class for young children not forcing such change the People’s Republic of China has promised to avoid? Consider Article 26(3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which outlines that ‘parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children’. The forced implementation was withdrawn late last month after protests reached new levels, with university students engaging in hunger strikes in order to gain back a level of agency within the public education system.

We must now bring in to question –what is next for Hong Kong? With an independent legal system, and a tradable currency pegged to the US dollar, Hong Kong has clearly maintained a significant level of autonomy since the 1997 handover from British rule. However, what remains unclear for the future is whether this level of freedom will be maintained throughout the rest of the 50-year grace period, or if we will see continuous discontent and grievances regarding a people’s struggle for democracy.

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