From Cultural to Educational Desert

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Educational cleansing became rampant after the Hong Kong National Security Law was passed in 2020. The release of the Education Bureau (EDB)’s Guidelines on Teachers’ Professional Conduct (Guidelines) last week means another spell on teachers, who will only be obedient and act as mouthpieces of the regime in the future.

We all know that the United States had black slaves and China had serfs in history, while the Guidelines will enslave the teachers. This is not an overstated judgment, especially when we compare the Guidelines with the rescinded Code for Educators drafted by the Council on Professional Conduct (Code), which the EDB has abolished.

The Code represents a much more liberal educational ecology. It has a whole chapter on teachers’ rights, which clearly states that “as citizens, professional educators should enjoy all rights conferred by law and fundamental human rights” and that teachers have the right to “exercise professional judgment to present, interpret and criticize all kinds of information and views, including that on controversial issues,” and to “refuse non-professional work that is not related to their duties.”

All these rights, which Hong Kong educators have long taken for granted, are found nowhere in the Guidelines. This indicates that teaching now becomes a profession with responsibilities without rights. With the closure of the pro-democracy Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, teachers no longer have the platform to defend their professional autonomy. All future complaint cases will be directly handled by the EDB rather than a neutral professional body, and more disqualifications are likely to be made.

The Guidelines define “misconduct” loosely, and professional judgments can be easily interpreted as misconduct. In the past, EDB regarded EDB-approved textbooks as a reference and encouraged teachers to use them in whatever way they deemed professionally appropriate. Now, the Guidelines explicitly state that teachers should not “use teaching materials that do not comply with the EDB and related guidelines due to their personal stance.” In other words, enthusiastic teachers unwilling to just repeat the textbooks in class or deliberately include additional content may be condemned as unauthorized teaching, an accusation the EDB began to use in a recently released quality assurance report.

As the Code stipulation that teachers “should strive to cultivate in their students a sense of freedom, peace, equality, rationality, and democracy” is also taken away in the Guidelines, teachers who choose to adhere to this belief may cross the red line of “provocations against the social order,” a term which is not defined at all.

Like an icy wind from the north, the National Security Law has plunged Hong Kong’s education to below freezing point. This is certainly not the first cultural purge due to influence from the north. Before the Japanese Occupation, a group of New Culture activists from mainland China arrogantly declared that only a culture of New Literature–using vernacular, not traditional Chinese–might qualify as culture, and they found it very dissatisfying that Hong Kong was still dominated by “old literature.” New Culture advocates like Mao Dun, Dai Wangshu, and Ye Lingfeng (literacy writers in 1930~1960) founded many publications in Hong Kong, and finally, New Literature prevailed there. It was not until then that they proclaimed that Hong Kong “had always been a cultural desert” before they came and that Hong Kong’s cultural life had just begun.

In other words, the term “cultural desert,” of which Hong Kong is accused time and again, originated in a cultural cleansing campaign back in the 1930s. This term was invented to mark the success of replacing a “rotten” culture and the beginning of a new and advanced one imported from mainland China. The fall of education in Hong Kong that took place 90 years after is just another cultural conquest from the north.

In contrast, Xi Xi, a famous Hong Kong author who recently passed away, is particularly admired. In an interview, she said, “Young people don’t owe us anything; instead, it is us who owe them an ideal society.” Hong Kong may have become an island of melancholy after repeated failures to defend its freedom and democracy, but it is still blessed with people of conscience who never give up its youth and culture.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Hans Yeung
Hans Yeung is a former manager at the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority, specializing in history assessment. He is also a historian specializing in modern Hong Kong and Chinese history. He is the producer and host of programs on Hong Kong history and a columnist for independent media. He now lives in the UK with his family. Email:

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