Relaaax, says gov’t, National Anthem Law won’t be THAT onerous for schools

Photo: Pixabay
Photo: Pixabay

Hey teachers, the Hong Kong government is here to set your minds at ease.

As you may have heard, a new national anthem law is most likely going to be enforced in the SAR later this year, which means you will likely be forced to teach it to students, your students will be forced to sing it in a “respectful” manner, and failure to adequately respect the anthem can result in jail time and fines.

But don’t worry, education officials have said, at least you can decide how you’re going to teach it.

According to HK01, Undersecretary for Education Christine Choi Yuk-lin told lawmakers at a meeting of the Legislative Council’s Bills Committee yesterday that after the national anthem law is implemented, schools will be free to decide how they prefer to teach the national anthem to their students.

After all, that’s really what the maelstrom of criticism was all about, right? Not concerns over outright censorship, or fears that people could be tossed in jail for expressing their opinion, or even worries that the statute’s vague wording means people could run afoul of the law without even knowing it. No, all the hullabaloo was really about the pesky little question of just how Hong Kong’s teachers were going to instill in their students sufficient respect for “March of the Volunteers,” as well as a healthy amount of fear for the state it celebrates.

At yesterday’s meeting, pro-democracy lawmakers expressed concerns about the section of the bill that states that schools in Hong Kong must teach students about the national anthem, and that the education secretary should issue guidelines on how to teach the anthem, its “history and spirit,” and the manner in which it is to be played or performed.

Some lawmakers voiced concerns that the law would affect the autonomy of the SAR’s schools, and that the authorities might punish or sack principals and teachers if they fail to uphold the section in question.

But Choi insisted that that it was up to schools to determine how and when to teach the anthem, and that the bill includes no legal repercussions for educators.

“Schools are a place for students to learn, and Clause 9 states that students should have the chance to be taught the anthem, and there is no punishment,” she said.

Also present at the hearing was Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip Tak-kuen, who said the clause only states that it is compulsory for the education secretary to issue guidelines to schools.

(For reference, the “Promotion of the National Anthem” section of the draft bill itself states: “The Secretary for Education must give directions for the inclusion of the national anthem in primary education and in secondary education.”)

One of the lawmakers to weigh in was the Civic Party’s Alvin Yeung, who asked if schools should teach students the entire history of the anthem, including the fate of its lyricist, Tian Han, who was caught up in the cultural revolution, jailed, tortured for two years, and then died in prison.

When Yeung asked Choi if knowing too much about the history of the anthem could result in students disrespecting it, Choi responded that teachers could decide what content of the anthem is taught, and that the bill “doesn’t state any demands [as] to how students should feel about the anthem,” Apple Daily reports.

HK01 reports that when pressed by Labour Party lawmaker Fernando Cheung what the bill means by schools teaching students about the “spirit of the national anthem,” Choi said it referred to “the unity of the country, and consolidating love to the country.”

When asked how she defined “country,” Choi said the People’s Republic of China, prompting Cheung to ask, “The country, Communist Party, or the Chinese people?”

Choi replied: “They’re all included in the country.”

The controversial law was formally introduced to the city’s legislature in January, and came about in response to Hong Kong football fans booing the national anthem at matches.

Among other things, the bill outlaws playing the anthem “in a distorted or disrespectful way, with intent to insult.” It also forbids altering the anthem’s lyrics and its score. As well as possible jail time, offenders could also face fines of up to HK$50,000 (about US$6,300).

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