Rescuing the “Chinese identity” in classroom? All Wrong.

Last Monday (27 July), Deputy Head of the Liaison Office Xun Da called on young people in Macau to “meet the ideological requirements set by the Chinese Central Government”. It has not been the first time that Chinese officials openly raise their concern over Macau young people’s “allegiance to China”.

For the avoidance of doubt, unless I specify otherwise, the references to “Chinese identity” in this article are confined to the meaning of “Chinese nationalism.

Not soon after Xi Jinping’s stress on “cultivating young people for the succession of ‘the one country two systems’” in a speech made on his visit to Macau in December 2014, rumours of enforcing “national education” in all schools emerged. The current education system of Macau gives schools autonomy in selecting and designing the curricula. Some Christian schools have incorporated civic education in religious studies in lieu of offering separate “civic education” classes. One rumour said that the pro-establishment camp was trying to persuade the DSEJ to declare the “civic education” subject compulsory in all schools, including the faith-based ones. Of course, the “civic education” textbooks co-published by the DSEJ and the China-based People’s Education Press contain necessary elements for the government to introduce “national education” in the name of “civic education” aiming to develop students’ pro-China sentiment.

In the past, young people’s acceptance of Chinese identity has been quite high. At the time when I was going to high school, very few peers would reflect on the Chinese identity constructed in the process of socialisation. The pro-establishment associations and schools have played a major role in the reinforcement of, and the elevation of the status of, the Chinese national identity. The successful launch of manned space capsule and the Beijing Olympics 2008 once pushed the pride in Chinese identity to its climax.

Later, the rise of global influence of China did not help maintain the “national pride” in the heart of the people in Hong Kong and Macau. In the light of the history of Macau and Hong Kong being a window to the world for China, some envisioned that the positive aspects of the legal systems of Hong Kong and Macau might be of a valuable reference for China in its democratisation. However, after the change of sovereignty, the direction of influence “reversed.” Both the Macau and Hong Kong governments are increasingly inclined to work like the Chinese government.

Those who might consider themselves part of the greater Chinese family may find it extremely difficult to exert influence in the “greater family”. The job of preventing our home cities from picking up the undesirable qualities from China is challenging enough.

Head of the Liaison Office Li Gang revealed in March this year that the Macau young people’s recognition rate of the Chinese identity had fallen from 90% in August to 50% in December 2014. The significant drop occurred within half a year might have appealed Xi Jinping and subsequent visiting Chinese officials to publicly say something on “the cultivation of pride in the [Chinese] ethnicity” in local education. Although no surveys, particularly those I considered credible, were published to provide figures, based on my observation, people aged late teens to early 20s tend to reject or deny Chinese identity while adopting a more localist identity.

The plummeting of the recognition rate from 90% to 50% very likely was correlated with the Umbrella Movement. I believe that the Chinese government’s firm denial of political rights guaranteed in the Basic Law and police brutality in the face of peaceful demonstrators have been the destructive force to the Macau young people’s recognition of the Chinese identity. Furthermore, Li Gang added “the young people and students were on the frontline in the protest against the Compensation Bill which has created a profound impact on the society.” Contrary to popular belief, rather than the greedy Principal Officials, the Chinese government pointed their fingers at the young people who took to streets as the “culprit” in the chain of events stemming from the Compensation Bill.

As a person who rejects nationalism and communitarianism, I encourage everyone to reflect on all socially constructed identities imposed on us. For the Chinese identity, the promoter – the Chinese government – in itself is the ultimate killer of the identity. With access to free internet, indoctrination may not work effectively on young people. May I ask the Chinese officials to go home and address your “domestic issues”, inter alia, human rights violations, before coming to Macau to attempt “leading” the young people how to identity themselves.

Published in “Ponto Final” on 6 August 2015

Photo (credit: TDM) – Alexis Tam defending the plan to enforce “national education” in Macau

alexis tam

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