Hong Kong: Brainwashing Education

The Hong Kong Education Bureau is planning to make patriotic education compulsory for primary and secondary school children.

The objective of the Moral and National Education Curriculum is to build “national harmony, identity and unity among individuals”, help the students to “develop a sense of belonging to the motherland”, “support national sports teams” and “appreciate Chinese culture”. The plan, however, has sparked fears in the society of political brainwashing.

“Brain-washing is a common practice”

Hong Kong school children. Image by Flickr user wok (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Hong Kong school children. Image by Flickr user wok (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

As if to self-fulfill the prophecy, the Director of Publicity, Culture and Sports Department at the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the Hong Kong, Hao Tie-chuan, wrote in the Sina micro-blog on May 8, 2011, that “brain-washing” is a common practice in western education systems (Note: today I found the message deleted, here is a copy [zh]):

关于香港中小学的德育及国民教育,有人说是“洗脑”,只要看看美、法等西方国家这方面的制度,就会看到这种必要的“洗脑”是一种国际惯例;有人说要培养中 小学生的批判意识,但国际社会通常做法是在大学培养批判思维意识,而不是中小学;有人说德育及国民教育不要听中央政府的,但那还叫国民教育吗?

Some people say that the moral and national education in primary and secondary school in Hong Kong is “brain-washing”, if you take a look at the education systems in western countries like the United States and France, such “brain-washing” is a necessity and international norm. Some say it is necessary to develop critical thinking among primary and secondary school children, but the common practice in international society is to cultivate critical consciousness in university education, not primary and secondary school level; some say that moral and national education should not [teach school children] to obey the central government, but would that still serve the propose of national education?

Responses to Hao's “brain-washing” theory

Hao's comment has widely been reported in mainstream media, Facebook and other social media platforms from May 9-11 2011 and many netizens visited Hao's micro-blog to leave comments, only to find out that most of the critical comments had been deleted. Many netizens pointed out that they had been blocked from commenting in Hao's micro-blog, including myself. Below is a screen capture of my failure to comment on Hao's “brainwashing remark” on May 11 2011:

Nevertheless, I managed to save some of the comments through Sina search (the more critical ones have been blocked from search by Sina administrator):

石孝文 [zh]:英國教育教導國民愛國,也同時從小就培養她/他們的批判精神;國民愛國,但不會盲目維國。一個人由小學開始被「洗腦」洗至大學,腦都早已殘廢了,只怕耶穌重臨再行神蹟,也不能令腦殘生出批判思維。聽中央政府是愛 D 教育,而非國民教育。還望郝先生釐清思維再發言,別為爭功而暴露了腦殘真相。

Shi Xiaowen: In the United Kingdom, their education teaches the citizens to love the country, while at the same time developing critical thinking. People love their country but would not defend everything that the country does. When people start receiving “brain-washing” in primary school, their brain would be damaged by the time they enter university. Even Jesus cannot perform miracles to cultivate critical thinking among the damaged brains. The task of national education is not to teach people to obey central government, Mr. Hao should not expose his damaged brain for furthering his career.

忽悠神Johnson [zh]:典型的不懂裝懂,假如你真的懂還說得出這些說話,你更罪惡。西方的是國民公民教育並存,之所謂國民教育認同感,是基於國家歷史榮辱認知,政府奉行憲政主義下有限政府原則,對歷史中立,皆因政府的組成是人民意願。至於人之所以為人,是良知的判斷,人如何立足於社會做人處事,則為公民教育。

Johnson : This is typical ignorant talk. If you are a knowledgeable person, you are more guilty. Western societies have both citizen and national education. The so-called national education is to develop a sense of identification with a country's history and constitution, which restricts the power of the people elected to government. Conscience is part of human nature and citizen education is to teach us how to perform in a society.

音樂逹人史丹利 [zh]:中聯辦宣傳部長郝鐵川近 日透過微博發表,毫不掩飾地指出香港政府推動德育及國民教育科就是要向學生「洗腦」,製造只臣服於黨的公民。「德育及國民教育如果不要聽中央政府的,但那 還叫做國民教育嗎?」有香港立法會議員形容言論「赤裸得令人心驚」!…哈哈哈哈,我覺得這宣傳部長夠坦白,很可愛!

Musician Stanley: Hao Tie-chuan from the Propaganda Department of the Joint Liaison Office recently said in his micro-blog that the purpose of moral and national education in Hong Kong is to brainwash the students and manufacture citizens who obey the Chinese Communist Party. “If moral and national education do not [teach school children] to obey central government, would that still serve the propose of national education?” – a Hong Kong Legislator said that such talk is fearful… haha, I find this propaganda director too candid, too cute!

CLPRO [zh]:有木有良知啊!!!你這不是在逼瘋人民嗎?人民愛國是由心而發,用得著你這樣做麼?法國人民之所以愛國皆因自由、平等、博愛,美國人民之所以愛國是因為愛自由、包容力高,中國人民之所以不愛國,是因為腐朽的架構、失敗的教育、官僚主義,醒醒吧!一個真正強大的國家不需要國民教育,國民會自然自豪!

CLPRO: Do you have a conscience!!!! Do you want to make people crazy? People should love their country from their heart, do you need to do this? The reason why French people love their country is because of their values: freedom, equality and fraternity. The reason why Americans love their country is because of their love for freedom and diversity. The reason why Chinese people don't love their country is because of the corrupted political system, failure in education and bureaucracy. Wake up! A really powerful country does not need national education to make people proud of the country.

How to brain-wash the kids?

So much for Hao's Freudian slip, what exactly would the curriculum be that is implemented in Hong Kong? Sam Ng has studied the consultation document and explained the brain-washing process [zh]:



In the pedagogy of “Cheering for our national team”, students were asked to recollect the scene when the Chinese Olympic team receive an award on the stage with the national anthem as background music. The teacher would ask the students to talk about their feelings. A note in the pedagogy says: “If the teachers notice that students do not have strong feelings about the nation, do not criticize them, accept their performance, but ask them to reflect upon their reaction.” How to reflect? Repent in front of a wall like a Buddhist monk? or write a penitent report?

Another example is the pedagogy of “I learn how to sing the national anthem”. After listening and singing out loud the national anthem, the teacher should ask the student: “Please stand up, speak out loud two of the nation's guiding spirits.” then: “Please speak out loud: “I feel happy that I am Chinese”. The curriculum keeps demanding students to speak out loud.

Kursk from inmediahk.net also points out [zh] that the devil is in the detail and invites the readers to take a close look at the curriculum. For example, although students do not need to take an examination, they have to go through a series of evaluations:


The curriculum puts forward an evaluation scheme: parents have to evaluate their kids and students have to evaluate each other. The evaluation form is an indexed scale.

As Kursk rightly spells out, it is impossible to evaluate a person's feeling and emotion, thus the side effect of such evaluation may be mutual policing among school kids:


Mutual evaluation may bring forth another problem: mutual monitoring among students. This may be a bit far-fetched. However, in mainland China, it is quite common that students report each other on their [political] misconduct. If there are options in the evaluation form like “understand and support the country”, “protect the national territories’ sovereignty”, the mutual evaluation would become mutual policing.

A battle with the state educator

It is inevitable that the Chinese government would impose “brain-washing” mechanisms in the Hong Kong education system and mainstream media. At inmediahk.net, Tommyjonk urges citizens to be prepared for the ideological battle [zh] by quoting local intellectual Ma Kokming's talk about the role of organic intellectuals:

「葛蘭西認為,資本主義的國家體制更扮演著教育家的角色(The State as Educator)。要重新啟動社會主義革命,必須抗衡資本主義的主導意識形態,這個任務落在有機知識份子(organic intellectual)身上。葛蘭西設想的有機知識份子不是在象牙塔裡閉門造車的人,而是緊密跟社會上的抗爭運動相呼應的。」


Gramcis believes that the state machine in a capitalist country plays the role of “The State as Educator”. To launch the socialist revolution, we have to resist the capitalist dominating ideology. The mission falls to the hands of organic intellectuals. Gramcis’ organic intellectuals are not academics hiding inside ivory towers, but people who engage in conversations with social movements.

In the education sector, we have quite a number of progressive organic intellectuals. If the central government and SAR government make the moral and national education compulsory in schools, we have to network with all the progressive forces to fight the battle against the state machinery!!!


  • I disagree with any attempts at patriotic/nationalistic brainwashing, but Hao does have a point as far as the USA goes…… they are only teaching rudimentary critical thinking in all but the most elite schools and providing heavy doses of patriotic/nationalist indocrination. As more and more austerity measures are instituted and absurd bureaucratic quantitative testing/assessment is increased, this becomes worse.

    Lets take Texas as our test example:




    • In the USA, different states have different practices. Moreover, the media environment and civil society is relative strong and free, which can counter balance ideological control.

      More importantly, to love one’s country is not the same as to love/obey one’s government or a political party. In the case of China, the country, the government and the party is a single entity…

  • Anonymous

    Texas is probably the worst example. It’s where most of the controversial suggestions for changes in curriculum have originated. Some states or school districts have chosen to adopt similar changes in their wake, but many districts have not. It depends on the culture and beliefs (sometimes regrettably shackled to religious leaders) of the local communities. Nevertheless, it’s better to be aware that these proposals exist and which areas of the country have enacted them.

  • Qing Liu

    Patriotic education is necessary, and it is not a rough brainwashing. Patriotism is a faith that everybody definitely should keep it,respect it and deliver it. It is so sad to see so many people have forgiven it. Selfishness and unconcernedness might just be the result and exacerbate the situation . I can’t understand the purposes of these blames. There already are enormous informations filled in TV programs,movies and websites are telling how stupid their countries are. It is the time to teach some basic principles.

  • […] video, featuring the same interviewees, on what patriotism means in the Hong Kong context and the recent debates on national education. We originally wanted to include this content in the current video, but decided against it in the […]

  • Katherine Cabai

    I really feel that some of this same type stuff happens in the United States. Especially in Texas where they are under a lot of pressure to have students pass the state exams or teachers will be fired and schools closed. Therefore, they talk about teachers, “teaching to the test”. Chinese students and individuals are very intelligent for the most part. This is an interesting conversation.

  • Ming

    I am Han Chinese by birth and citizenship, and I am loyal to my mother nation. But not – no, NEVER – would I be loyal to the corrupt Communist government. China is now so corrupt that it is almost irrecognizable from the Middle Kingdom of old. Read about the Tiananmen Square massacre and its aftermath in careful detail – some things most Americans do not even know.

  • Marc

    Texas may not be as good of an example of the negative effects of brain washing as some think. Yes, the Christian conservatives who run the board of education try to insert revisionist history as well as religious views in text books — often successfully. However, they do not do this without a very public fight that tarnishes their own credibility and earns them the distrust of the public. Also, academics and teachers (who from my experience are largely liberal) make a point of counter balancing these attempts. The teachers are quite outspoken with telling students how absurd the BOE’s attempts are. In the end, the politics and religion of a child’s household will weigh heavier in the children’s minds than any textbook.
    Ironically, as a Texan, I’ve never seen anything in any of the books claiming Texas is the best. And yet, I would say most Texans are programmed to believe it is. This pride most likely comes more from the kind of camaraderie that occurs at a football game than studies.

  • […] national sports teams, and appreciate and understand Chinese culture.” Unsurprisingly, many have called this brainwashing. At issue is that Hong Kong Chinese are a very different type of Chinese than Mainland Chinese, as […]

  • […] Mainland Chinese are pouring across the border each year, Beijing is pushing Hong Kong to adopt a “patriotic” curriculum for students, Mandarin is gaining in importance against centuries-old Cantonese, many believe […]

  • Frankie Leung

    Introducing national education without wide consultation and also having pro-government perspective as the only point of view is totally despotic way of teaching the wrong subject.  Unlike the Mainland, China is an open society and once the rest of the world see how H K children are education, they will declare the demise of One Country Two Systems.  H K will be a sterile city like a pool of dead water.

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