Earlier this month, a directive was sent to schools in Hong Kong requiring school authorities to monitor the political activity of students and teachers and the use of new teaching materials in order to avoid “threats to national security”. Students must be instilled in the conviction that when national security is at stake, and “there is no room for debate or compromise”.
A cartoon for children on National Safety Law
Among the new educational content, there is a cartoon for six-year-olds: an owl explains the National Safety Law to a boy and a girl. Essentially in the same way that Beijing is using to deprive Hong Kong of what remains of its autonomy. The law was introduced “for the purpose of maintaining Hong Kong’s development and well-being”. The child in the cartoon, under a bright sky and against the backdrop of a playground in a busy city, concludes: “Our hope is that our families and the people around us can lead a happy and stable life.”
The rebirth of Maoism
Hong Kongers should not be surprised. Despite their resistance, Hong Kong is now part of the system of the People’s Republic of China (one country two system is dead). They have to accept the rules of life and the prevailing dictatorial models, similar to mainland China. In the specific field of education, it is evident that the goal is increasingly Maoism which, under Xi Jinping, is experiencing a real rebirth.
It was a gradual process, starting from the universities. After the freedom movement at the Tiananmen Square in 1989, CCP leaders came to the conclusion that the “riots” were due to deficiencies in patriotic education. The lessons dedicated to politics have thus been increased, placing particular emphasis on the historical humiliations inflicted on China by foreign countries. In 2004, new textbooks aimed at training the Chinese citizens according to the “correct world view” were introduced in secondary schools.
Xi Jinping gave a robust acceleration to the anti-democracy propaganda. A circular called “Document 9” banned the teaching of seven Western principles including constitutional democracy, civil society and freedom of the press. The effect has been devastating: universities in particular have ceased to be centres of political activism and free debate. At the same time, the rebellious intellectuals have also been been silenced.
In 2019, the Chinese government issued a new directive addressed to elementary and middle school students entitled “Love the Party, the nation, socialism and other people”. A compulsory course focusing on “Xi Jinping’s thinking” was introduced in high school. Not only that: dozens of Chinese universities have research institutes that deal exclusively with his thoughts.
Xi said he wanted to strengthen the faith of young people in the Party so that the Party’s teaching is “to be transmitted from generation to generation”.
Chinese youth do not feel an emotional connection with the Chinese Communist Party
The Party has not yet managed to free Chinese young people from poverty and illiteracy, instead it humiliated them by forcing them to participate in public demonstrations to celebrate the class struggle, as happened to their grandparents and parents. However, about four out of five students belong to the Communist Youth League, which is a mandatory step to join the Chinese Communist Party. This is mostly mere opportunism: anyone expecting to get a job in one of the state-owned enterprises or in the public administration in the future must have this in their CVs.
However, it is a fact that patriotism – as the Chinese government understands it – has become fashionable in China today. Young Chinese people, who consume enormous foreign mass culture, are at the same time ready to fiercely defend the honor and conquests of their homeland. They sneered at the crude propaganda posters, but believe the propaganda that the Communists have saved China from a “century of humiliation” at the hands of foreign powers and that today the country can only recover by opposing the West.
Research shows that Chinese students are increasingly pro-regime and increasingly against democracy and the free market. For example, the CCP has an easy game when it comes to involving them in the boycott of foreign brands or sports teams guilty of having “offended” China. The so-called offense can include a criticism of the regime in a film, the publication of a map that distinguishes Taiwan or Hong Kong as separate entities, and even just a tweet against the Chinese government.
The “work on thought” begins in kindergarten
Beijing clearly wants to take care of the brainwashing of the little ones. The “thought work” begins in kindergarten, where five-year-old children sing patriotic songs, go to museums commemorating the history of the CCP and the victory over imperial Japan.
Among the teaching materials destined for Hong Kong is a play script for children titled “Who Stole My Flag?” The child playing the patriot says, “Yes! I love my homeland. I love to collect and buy objects with the national flag ”. Another character, called the Destroyer, steps on the flag and (consequently) he does not have a friend.
The day the new guidelines were issued, the front page of the People’s Daily featured an announcement of the increase in the activity of Chinese pioneers in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. The CCP spokesman in the story recalled that since their inception in 1949 the Young Pioneers have united, educated and guided generations of children according to the indications of the Party. To date, their business remains “strategic” and “fundamental”.
It would be unnatural if politically uncertain territories like Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang were not the subjects of patriotic education. President Xi last August asked for him to be praised in Tibetan schools in order to “show love for China in the heart of every child”. In December, itinerant educators began beating schools in Tibet explaining why it is necessary to “actively repay the Party and the State for their generosity”.
Hong Kong has tried to resist, but it is getting more and more difficult
Things have not been going very well in Hong Kong so far. Nine years ago, attempts were made to introduce lessons that were to improve the image of Mainland China and the Party. The plan sparked citizen protests and the Beijing government took a step back. For some years, Beijing limited its interference to only encouraging the use of Mandarin (the Cantonese dialect is spoken in Hong Kong) and to organizing study trips between mainland China and Hong Kong. But after the outbreak of mass protests in 2019, the authorities took off their white gloves, despite them being aware that restrictions of free speech and related political freedoms were the cause of the growing opposition to the Beijing regime.
Carrie Lam, Chief Executive of the Hong Kong government, concluded that the protests were fuelled by overly liberal curricula at universities and ordered of a review. Now, under the new security law, anyone who rebels or protests ends up in prison while the regime’s crude propaganda continues to rage in schools.
Will the Beijing strategy work? In a decade, today’s children will be waving Chinese flags with the same genuine sincerity as their peers in mainland China. And future Hong Kong children will perhaps perform in shows like “The Little Red Army”, a play staged by elementary school pupils at the Chinese National Children’s Theatre in Beijing. “Even though we are still young, we are the irreducible Little Red Army!” shouts a child in a grey uniform. “As long as we are united there will be no insurmountable difficulties”. And the chorus echoes him: “If I look up I see the Great Leader and in the depths of my heart I miss Mao Zedong so much”.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of GNEWS.org. Copyright belongs to Gazeta Wyborcza from Leading European Newspaper Alliance (LENA)
Translator: George Adam