Until reading Chris Leung's timely reminder about the definition of "national education", I didn't realise this term means something so different from what it is understood – or meant to be understood – in Hong Kong today.
I looked up a few more news reports in the international English press and found that "patriotism lessons" may be more accurate and appropriate to describe what the controversial syllabus really is.
It is no news at all that many, if most, Hong Kong people are anti-communist or communist-phobic. But it is still somewhat surprising to see that Chief Executive Chun-ying Leung doesn't seem to give a damn to address this most overwhelming emotion of all.
"Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration." So the famous lines of Dune read. You may say the protesters have gone a bit too far to accuse the proposed curriculum as "brainwashing", because the schools and teachers are free to teach whatever they think appropriate. But when scepticism and suspicion are in place of mutual trust, which is exactly what has driven the current standoff with the government, people will find good (and bad, of course) reasons to doubt and shut off their ears and minds. Failure to understand these compelling and enthralling emotions, address them upfront does not mean you have taught a small frenzied mob a tough lesson. Instead, you are just fuelling it to grow out of everyone's control.
Apparently Mr Leung's long-due offer of an olive branch yesterday is not going to take the gridlock to anywhere. He has already missed the opportunity of reconciliation. God knows why he has been so stubbornly defensive of the patriotism lessons with which he has little to do. Scandal-ridden since being elected, Mr Leung must be desperate to score and prove himself. It is perfectly understandable. Unfortunately he has chosen the wrong, if stupid, path. If he were smart enough, he should have blamed the previous administration for having done a bad job and start all over again. But after all these weeks and months, his refusal to consider the scrap-off option just seems incomprehensible. Does he think the people will come to their senses one day and talk "reason" as much as "professionals" like him do? Or does he think talking to nasty people would taint his "professional" – or honourable – image? Or does he think he has nothing to fear with backing from Beijing? Doesn't he know that oppression, even disguised in carefully crafted rhetoric, doesn't work for Hong Kong people? The more high-handed you are, the stronger the resistance you will face, and in this case, the farther away you will push Hong Kong people from China, both the state and the nation. Someone has already left a message on this blog asking, "Why study Chinese history? Why not the history of Hong Kong where I live?" Don't you see the problem, Mr Leung?
For better or worse, the clock is ticking. Everyone is impatient. We need to resolve this matter sooner than later. Unfortunately there only seems one way out now – and certainly not the best option that we once had.