It is time to learn from our 'little brother'

Updated: 2015-01-26 09:36

By Sonny Lo(HK Edition)

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During President Xi Jinping's visit to Macao in December, he called on Hong Kong to emulate Macao's development, which is characterized by the predominance of "One Country" over "Two Systems", a deeper integration with the mainland, residents' understanding of the Basic Law, and a greater understanding and appreciation of Chinese history and culture among its young people.

Xi's remarks are generally taken to mean that the Hong Kong should learn from Macao in so far as respecting China's sovereignty and the ultimate power of the central government over the SARs.

Strictly speaking, Hong Kong is politically and socially very different from Macao. Hong Kong has a highly assertive, vibrant civil society in which the media monitor the work of the government on a daily basis. It has an active political culture among the youth, which strives to defend the "Two Systems". It will, therefore, be challenging for Hong Kong to develop in the same way as the former Portuguese colony.

Nevertheless, Hong Kong can learn something from Macao. First and foremost, our schools must incorporate a greater focus on the country, helping students appreciate Chinese history and gain a pride in their culture. In this respect, Macao teachers have an edge over their Hong Kong counterparts as most of them were born and educated on the mainland and are, therefore, better equipped to undertake this task.

Furthermore, Macao youngsters are regularly sent to the mainland under cultural exchange programs. This is something Hong Kong schools should look into, not only to give our students a better understanding of the country's rich cultural heritage, but also its modern achievements. Field trips to historic sites would go a long way toward educating Hong Kong students about the country's tumultuous history, including such events as the civil wars, the historic Long March, the war with Japan, the 1937 Nanking massacre, and the Korean War.

The status quo, namely that there is currently no obligation for Hong Kong secondary school students to study Chinese history or culture, is absurd. No wonder many young people feel alienated from their motherland!

Hong Kong can also learn from Macao in giving its citizens a more comprehensive education on the Basic Law. Macao not only did this through the school system, but also through many interest and professional groups, including labor unions, women's associations, and other tongxianghui (town associations).

In contrast, Hong Kong suffers from political polarization. This hampers efforts at civic education, particularly in respect of cultivating a correct sense of nationalism and social harmony; and most importantly, an awareness of the civic responsibility that goes along with civic rights.

However, the post-"Occupy Central" society can rebuild political trust and social harmony by appreciating how the central government has been interpreting the Basic Law since 1997, helping more citizens understand the content of the Basic Law.

Hong Kong can also learn from Macao in cultivating new political talents by helping them develop their public speaking skills and political confidence through participation in socio-political events. In contrast, Hong Kong's pro-business and pro-establishment groups lag behind the rise of many social groups, especially student organizations.

While Hong Kong's student organizations have contributed enormously to the territory's political life and social movements, the existing pro-business and pro-establishment groups have fallen behind. If this is not rectified soon, Hong Kong's civil society will continue to exhibit an imbalance between anti-government and pro-establishment forces, resulting in a divided civil society - one segment heavily critical of the administration and the central government but increasingly populist, and the other weak social forces supportive of Beijing and the Hong Kong government. A more balanced approach to rebuilding the divided society is urgently needed

Finally, Hong Kong can learn from Macao in terms of active regional integration with the mainland. Macao since 1999 has been fully economically integrated into the mainland, particularly with Guangdong province. Although Hong Kong's economic relations with the mainland have accelerated since 2003, much remains to be done. Macao's success in gaining access to part of Hengqin Island in Zhuhai to expand its geophysical space is a testimony to the economic benefits of closer cooperation with the mainland. Hong Kong must accelerate regional integration with the mainland in order not only to tap into the supply of mainland skills, but also shape its economic development in line with the central government's five-year plans and regional development strategies.

While in the past Hong Kong was regarded as the big brother, not needing to learn from its little brother Macao, the situation has been reversed. Hong Kong must learn from Macao's adaptability. Otherwise, Hong Kong will see a decline in its long-term competitiveness.

The author is professor and head of the Department of Social Sciences at the Hong Kong Institute of Education.

(HK Edition 01/26/2015 page7)