It may be a time-tested political strategy in Hong Kong: when desperate, use the political “nuclear” option – red scare – to exploit the anti-Beijing sentiment or the “fear Beijing” factor.
That’s what was deployed in a bid to derail Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s plan to add Dr Christine Choi Yuk-lin to her team as undersecretary for education. And it was a textbook campaign – built on the tenor of spreading fear, executed by blatant character assassination.
Never mind that Choi is a 20-plus-year veteran in education. Never mind that she once worked at the Education Bureau. Never mind that she has been a teacher for a decade as well as a principal. Never mind her professional credentials, schooling and training.
Mind, though, that she is (now “was”) a principal of Fukien Secondary School in Siu Sai Wan, and vice-president of the “pro-Beijing” Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers.
However, it is clear the opposition isn’t really personal, although the attacks are. Choi’s “crime” is that of association. Her “sin” is of belonging to a teachers’ group other than the Professional Teachers’ Union, and the “leftist” school she led. It is almost too bad that Choi is only 50 years old, since she cannot be “incriminated” for the 1967 riots as well.
Most striking is how her critics have abandoned attempts to simply make innuendos when it comes to the political persecution. It has become so McCarthy-esque that I have been left wondering whether there is a blacklist somewhere.
What is truly extraordinary, perhaps, is Lam sticking to her decision to appoint Choi, and Choi’s acceptance of the appointment. Perhaps reason does rule in this administration: having a veteran educator with years of experience would be an asset for the government.
Choi would be an asset to educators simply for the fact that she knows how much pressure teachers and schools are under, and she has spoken out and written about the topic. She has been a critic of education reform policies and education chiefs.
Choi would also bring an important element into the policymaking process for education: consideration for impact on stakeholders – the teachers who will have to carry the burden of government education policies.
Is requesting those who exploit red fears to critically inspect their own biases too much to ask?
In fact, it is a question we must treat seriously: are some people so indoctrinated with bias that self-introspection fails? Are some so prejudiced with delusions of superiority that, in their world, there are only standard answers, views, and opinions?
And, if so, how are these adults indoctrinating our children? Are they passing on to our students a crippling world view, where prejudgments are justified, and individuals are judged based on their association?
That seems to conflict with the ideals of education. Education shouldn’t lead to bias, prejudice and discrimination; ignorance does that. Narrow-mindedness goes against opening our minds and changing lives.
Discrimination isn’t limited to race, creed and gender. Our young children are prejudged, by their preschool access to playgroups and instruction in the fine arts; basically, by their parents’ resourcefulness.
Ethnic minority students do not stand a chance in our education system. The fact that policies at some schools were called out by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child as “de facto discrimination” in 2013 shows this isn’t just a special-needs education issue.
For those lamenting the lack of critical thinking skills among our students, it is hard to feign ignorance as to where that comes from.
The reaction to Choi’s appointment should actually be studied and used as material in exploring how pervasive prejudice is in our community. It shapes a society that tolerates intolerance and is undeserving of the title “Asia’s world city”.
Educating ourselves on how politicians exploit our unquestioned biases and perceptions fuelled by fear would far better prepare us to fight whatever “brainwashing” pre-crime Choi has been accused of.
Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA