Sunday, May 13, 2018

Study of Chinese History

Some pro-establishment types in Hong Kong are arguing that students should be required to study Chinese History as a subject for the open examination upon secondary school graduation - the so called DSE.  The premise is that study of Chinese History will compel students to be more “patriotic” - what they actually mean is to be more supportive of the establishment in Mainland China.  

I am rather skeptical of that premise. 

I love Chinese History.  I got an A in Chinese History in the open examination in 1973.  Of course I studied hard.  Not because I had to, but because I truly enjoyed it.  I am truly curious about what happened and why.  I read Chinese History as fascinating stories.  I still do.  

Going back 2,000+ years, there was a fascinating burst of creativity in the Spring-Autumn Period, when Confucius (孔子), Lao Zi (老子), Zhuang Zi (莊子), Mo Zi (墨子) and many others speculated on those philosophies that still permeates the way we believe, think and behave even today.  I want to know why and how it happened, and why it has not continued.  

So many foreign peoples were absorbed into and enriched the Chinese people, again and again.  Many people who consider themselves Chinese these days are actually descendants of the sworn enemies of the Han people (漢族), such as: Xiongnu (匈奴),  Jurchen (女真), Khitan (契丹), …  Their ancestors should be turning over in their graves now, if they know what is happening.  

I memorised the names of all 10 emperors of the Qing Dynasty because they had very different characters and achievements - or non-achievements.  I wanted to know how they turned China from one of the strongest and richest countries in the world in the late 1600s into one of the weakest and poorest in the 1800s - in less than 200 years.  They have committed a terrible crime against the Chinese people and I want to hold them responsible.  

It is equally important how Mainland China and Hong Kong went into radically different paths after the Second World War.  In Hong Kong we have been building a relatively open and inclusive society, where practically everyone has access to a reasonable education, where the law is respected, where people wait in line for the bus, where we can worship the gods of our own choosing, where people can come and go freely, …, despite a few hiccups.  

While in the mainland there have been famines caused by terrible economical policies, repeated violent political struggles against one faction and then another, the Great Leap Forward which was nothing but, the terrible terrible Cultural Revolution from which the country has not yet full recovered.  It is only since the reform set in motion in 1978 when things start to stablize.  Even now there is endemic corruption, people are still being sent to jail for political dissent, practicing religious beliefs, and simply for speaking up and trying to discover the truth. 

Studying history has helped me understand what went on before and why, that China does not have to be in this position, that China does not have to remain in this status, that China can be more open and inclusive, more like Hong Kong.  Does studying Chinese History help people understand China better?  Definitely.  Does it make people love the current establishment more?  I doubt it very much.   Unless if what they mean by Chinese History is actually party propaganda.  Now that is a totally different matter.  

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