Youth Identity and Hong Kong’s New National Security Education

by Shivahn Garvie

National security education was incorporated into the Hong Kong school curriculum in the 2021-22 academic year as a consequence of growing localist sentiment and anti-Beijing creed. Last year, the Hong Kong Education Bureau substituted “liberal studies” in secondary schools for a new subject called “citizenship and social development,” and this year authorities have announced that the “current life and society” subject will also be replaced within the next two years.

“Liberal studies” was offered as an optional course in Hong Kong secondary schools alongside “life and society” as of 2012. “Life and society” covered the socioeconomic development of Hong Kong and China and their distinct political systems, but saw minimal uptakes. Pending the expiration of Hong Kong’s autonomy from China approaching in 2047, many fear that the education reforms only mark the beginning of cultural and institutional change in the city. Pro-Beijing politicians accused the more popular elective, “liberal studies”, of radicalizing youth and inciting the 2019 anti-government protests. As a consequence, the Hong Kong Education Bureau replaced “liberal studies” with “citizenship and social development,” centered on lawfulness, patriotism and promoting students’ understanding of China’s national security to foster a national identity.

The core values of “life and society” included social justice and freedom, but the words, “democracy”, “integrity” and “social justice” are notably absent from the curriculum of its replacement subject, “citizenship, economics and society”. Unlike the old subject that aimed to induce political participation, the new subject has dropped content regarding government decision-making procedures, including an admonishment to communicate with the Legislative Council. Instead, “citizenship, economics and society” is oriented towards enriching students’ understanding of Beijing’s jurisdiction through outlining the primary offences under the national security law and the Hong Kong Basic Law. The Education Bureau announced that they would provide teaching materials for the new subject at the beginning of this academic year, and textbooks for 2024. The textbooks will be reviewed by a committee whose members remain undisclosed, ostensibly to protect them from external pressure and prejudice. However, many question the legitimacy of the committee and these textbooks given that the new “citizenship and social development” textbooks from earlier this year erroneously claimed that Hong Kong was never a British colony, but merely an occupied territory.

In addition to academic content reforms, Hong Kong schools are facing pressure to increase teaching time apportioned to patriotic content. The Education Bureau has asked Hong Kong schools to allocate a quarter of teaching time during primary school education to activities and discussions concerning Chinese culture and the constitution. This overhaul of Hong Kong’s primary school education is driven by a new curriculum guide that emphasizes the cultivation of a sense of belonging and identity through national security education to become responsible citizens. This is a stark contrast to the learning goals under the old guide, which stressed the importance of discriminating between right and wrong and tolerance towards diverse values.

Owing to these changes, the Education Bureau conducted an inspection of 169 out of 1,160 schools in Hong Kong in the 2021-22 academic year and deduced that efforts to incorporate national security education into the curriculum was “unsatisfactory”. This inspection was brought on by the revision of the teachers’ code of conduct which details that they must advance national education and divulge illegal activities or “morally deviant information” to authorities. The previous administration promised to revamp the code after lawmakers accused teachers of instigating students’ participation in the 2019 protests.

As the expiration of Hong Kong’s autonomy from China approaches in the year 2047, many fear that these education reforms only mark the beginning of cultural and institutional change in the city. However, the reluctant uptake of nationalist initiatives promises the retention of Hong Kong culture and values for the time being.

Works Cited

Kang-Chung, Ng. “Patriotism, national security education should make up a quarter of primary schools’ teaching time, Hong Kong Education Bureau says”, South China Morning Post, 8 September 2022.

Yiu, William. “What you need to know about Hong Kong’s new school subject focused on national security, sense of belonging”, South China Morning Post, 16 October 2022.

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