As current Chief Executive CY Leung reaches the end of his five-year term, he has announced a HK$125 million dollar grant to promote lessons in Chinese history and culture in all local schools. This move has been met with immediate criticism by pro-democracy politicians, activists, and educators, who insist that Leung’s actions serve to appease the Chinese government amidst calls for independence and permanent autonomous rule. Leung’s harshest critics claim that lessons in Chinese culture and history is tantamount to “brainwashing”.
As many pro-democracy advocates involved with the Occupy Central protests were high school and college students, this reformed education plan could be largely attributed to fear among pro-establishment leaders that students have “gone astray”. As Hong Kong youth continue to voice their frustrations with eroding political and personal freedoms under increasing Chinese control, it is unsurprising that Leung and his allies are seeking to promote a more positive outlook on Chinese political and historical affairs.
This announcement comes five years after a more concrete plan for education reform was proposed in 2012, during which the government crafted a “national education” program intended to nurture patriotism and promote “cultural appreciation”. However, the controversial plan was abandoned after a series of 10-day protests made it clear that Hong Kong students and citizens would not comply with the government’s agenda.
Though Leung’s actions may very well be viewed as kowtow to the Chinese government, the outcome of the protests in 2012 is testament to the tenacity of democracy in Hong Kong society. It is a reminder that voices of unity and reason can overcome political and ideological challenges, even in the wake of encroaching Chinese control.