ERG SES C 06, Parallel Session C 06
This paper will explore the challenges of conducting informal civic education in Hong Kong against a politically contested background where formal schooling emphasizes on building sense of belonging of national identity. The city’s annual candlelight vigil for the commemoration of Tiananmen Square Incident provides alternative civic learning experience for the general public. It represents not only truthfulness and justice concerning history and human dignity, but also inspires people to reflect the nature of government and social relation. It becomes a medium for political and cultural development. This paper will focus on the educative function of Tiananmen Commemoration in transforming civic life and cultivating democratic citizens.
Civic education in Hong Kong was arguably allied with the depoliticized theme of British colonial governance. It unavoidably led to a trivialized implementation of formal civic education in schools (Leung, 1995). In this regard, the version of civic education dominant in the colonial period generally took a social focus rather than a civic one (Lee, 2005). However, since the return of sovereignty to China in 1997, it has always been the thought of the Chinese government on one hand to maintain Hong Kong as a purely economic city that its British predecessor attempted in the colonial period; on the other hand to urge the Hong Kong government to implement patriotic education programme through formal schooling and mass media. Civic education in Hong Kong has become politicized, despite the issues of democracy, human rights, and social justice are largely neglected from the agenda.
The candlelight vigil held at the city’s Victoria Park has witnessed a remarkable dynamic since the night of 4th June 2009, the twentieth anniversary of the incident, in which the number of participants reached a historial high of 200,000. The turnout rate in 2010 was also high and the figure hit 150,000. People under 30 became the largest group to take part in 2010 vigil; and it was the second year in a row that there had been a large turnout of young people. The commemoration has become the largest public assembly in Hong Kong in recent years.
Hong Kong is the only city within the territory of China where people can publicly talk about the Tiananmen crackdown. For the rest of China, the phrase ‘June Forth Tiananmen Incident’ is strictly prohibited in public sphere. The Chinese official discourse deliberatively acts to cover up the facts about the incident, as if the Tiananmen crackdown had never happened. The commemoration as a form of informal education helps reveal the immense injustice in a way that can bridge history and memory. Unlike history, memory operates in living humans in which the distance between the past and the present is not as issue, as two are actually merged (Gardner, 2010; Ricoeur, 2004). In this regard, the official denial of the Tiananmen crackdown as part of ‘history’ arguably enhances the space for the politics of memory and the informal teaching and learning of this ‘controversial’ ‘history’.
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