Cross-Examination — Seven Questions for Those Who Would Teach Hong Kong’s Teachers

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Hong Kong Apostasy

Court officials were but as rotten timbers, the palace riven by men no better than ravenous beasts grown fat on the imperial coffers. Their ranks were successively renewed by cruel, lupine souls who behaved no better than savage curs. In the pursuit of power, however, they were devotedly slavish in their flattery. Thus, over time, the sacred core of rule was laid waste and the people reduced to the mire.


from Romance of the Three Kingdoms
Chapter Ninety-three

Wu Chun Him 胡俊謙 ends his series of interrogations aimed at Kevin Yeung Yun-hung (楊潤雄, 1963-), Hong Kong’s Secretary for Education, with a reference to this passage in Romance of the Three Kingdoms 三國演義, a popular fourteenth-century novel. The seventh and final question that Wu poses to Yeung is:

‘There’s a well-known saying [taken from Romance of the Three Kingdoms] that says: “bad officials are but as rotten timbers” 朽木為官. Are you familiar with it? If not, I suggest you take a look in the mirror!’

Wu is an arts and theatre educator, as well as being a committee member of the Hong Kong Arts Development Council. Like other teachers and arts professionals throughout the territory he is confronted with a kind of increased ideological policing that accords with the party-state policies of Beijing.

Education Secretary Yeung has been a prominent, and often clumsy, supporter of the stentorian lucubrations emanating from the Chinese capital:

  • He supports the use of Standard Chinese instead of Cantonese in the territory’s schools;
  • He has repeatedly called for teachers to prevent students from participating in the 2019-2020 protests;
  • He was highly critical of a ‘biased’ history question included in the 2020 Diploma of Secondary Education exam that asked whether Japan did more good than harm to China from 1900 to 1945;
  • He wrote to school principals calling on them to discipline students who took part in a union-organised referendum on whether to boycott classes as a protest against the imposition of national security legislation; and,
  • He warned principals against allowing students to shout slogans, form human chains, put up posters or sing songs like the new ‘Hong Kong Anthem’.


Readers familiar with our work on patriotic education in the era of Homo Xinensis — see the relevant chapters in Lessons in New Sinology — will be aware that, although ideological ephebes like Kevin Yeung, who only holds a Master of Business Administration from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, may readily baulk at Wu’s pointed questioning. In the PRC proper, however, tens of thousands of low-level teachers and bureaucrats, men and women who are long practiced in the art of historical materialism and dialectical doublethink, would give short shrift to such niggardly challenges. Indeed, as we have observed in the work we have published over the last decades, the Chinese Communist Party’s tireless refinement of an overarching historical and political narrative covering modern China and its place in the world has been of central importance to its enterprise for nearly a century. Hong Kong educators and students alike will, however reluctantly, come to learn that its suffocating embrace is ineluctable.

We offer Wu Chun Him’s feisty objections here, nonetheless, both as a matter of record in the protracted civil war between people in Hong Kong and Beijing, and as an addition to our work on Hong Kong Apostasy.

— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
16 June 2020


Related Material:

Wu Chun Him 吳俊謙. Source: Apple Daily, 12 June 2020


Seven Questions:

Cross-Examining Kevin Yeung
Hong Kong Secretary for Education


Wu Chun Him



As part of my annual teaching program, I offer students introductory guidance in how to appreciate musicals. ‘Les Misérables’ is one of the shows that we study. [Note: ‘Do You Hear the People Sing’, one of the best-known songs from the 1980 show has repeatedly featured during the Hong Kong protests.] As part of that lesson I naturally have to introduce the historical context of the work since it relates to the French Revolution. Although I don’t draw direct parallels to the situation in Hong Kong, I do have, what you would probably call, ‘a hidden agenda’, that is, I encourage students to be aware that through ‘Love’ they can transform not only their own lives but the world as well.

So, my question to you Secretary Yeung is this: by teaching in the above mentioned manner am I pushing the kind of ‘hidden agenda’ that you now want to forbid? What then, exactly, is your definition of our educational aims? Can you reveal the objective benchmarks that you are using and, if not, how exactly do you expect us to comply?

1. 我年年都有教《孤星涙》,我會教導學生如何欣賞音樂劇,教學內容會簡單介紹《孤星淚》故事中的歷史背景—-法國大革命。本人從來沒有把課堂內容牽引致今日香港的時局,但本人教《孤星淚》背後確實有推動一些東西——就是推動學生透過「愛」去改變自己嘅人生丶以至世界。



Henceforth, will we be allowed to perform theatrical works based on Chinese history? For instance, can we deal with such themes as the overthrowing of the infamous Tyrant Zhou of the Shang dynasty by King Wu of the Kingdom of Zhou? What about the peasant uprising led by Chen Sheng and Wu Guang against the autocratic Qin dynasty? [Note: Party historiography praises both the unifying rigour of the Qin as well as the righteous rebellion against it.] Then there’s the story about Mao Zedong advocating that Hunan province should enjoy self-determination and announce its independence from the rest of China. What about if we use that as a theme in a production?

Moreover, will we be allowed to depict Sun Yat-sen who, in defiance of the Qing Dynasty Legal Code organised an armed insurrection and, following numerous frustrated attempts at rebellion, contributed to the success of the Xinhai Revolution of 1911 that put an end to the autocratic rule of the Manchu imperial house? According to you, will such topics now be deemed to be freighted with a ‘hidden agenda’ and as such be forbidden and punished by your Department?

2. 請問學校戲劇節中,能否做中國歷史劇目?能否演周武王討伐暴君商紂、陳勝吳廣揭竿起義反暴秦丶毛澤東倡議湖南自決獨立的歷史故事?能否演國父孫中山不怕違反《大清律例》、並透過策動武裝革命丶前仆後繼丶最終透過「辛亥革命」推翻滿清獨裁政權的劇目?以上戲劇活動會否被定性為「在背後推動一些東西」、然後遭教育局懲處?


It has long since been the case that many areas of pedagogy overlap with topics touched on in arts education. In my own practice, for example, dramaturgy is a useful vehicle for introducing students to many of the key expressions in the Chinese language and in Chinese thought, as well as to such iconic novels as Romance of the Three Kingdoms, along with aspects of literary Chinese and the classics. I have always found such classes to be extremely popular, and they help students further appreciate Chinese history and culture. Let me give you some examples of popular themes:

‘Just as a period of political division gives way to an age of unity, so too does unity eventually give way to division.’ — from Romance of the Three Kingdoms

‘Water can either keep a vessel afloat or sink it.’ — from Xunzi [Note: this famous line is used by the official Chinese media as well as protesters and dissidents to warn of the dangers of going against the will of the people.]

‘The people are of the utmost importance, the Altar of State is secondary and the ruler comes last.’ — from Mencius

Will teachers now be permitted to instruct students in such content, or will they be accused of ‘advocating secession’ or found guilty of ‘subverting the state’?

3. 藝術教育今日已融入不同學科,本人亦有教一些透過戲劇教育幫助學生學習四字成語丶《三國演義》丶文言文篇章等等的課程。這類課程效果非常良好,令學生更熱愛中華歷史及文化,唯當中涉及以下內容:




If we were to extend the above discussion, one would observe that, over the ages, China’s geopolitical territory has proven to be prodigiously flexible. Indeed, there is no particular territory one could reasonably claim that has been intrinsically integral to the Chinese from ancient times. Take, for instance, the territories covered by present-day Hong Kong and Guangdong. None of these were recognised as being part either of the Shang or Zhou periods; furthermore, during the Qin and Han eras [from the second century BCE to the second century CE] neither what is today termed Xinjiang nor Tibet were included in their dynastic sweep. Prior to the Three Kingdoms era [the second and third centuries CE], no political entity extended its control over what is modern-day Taiwan. [Note: It is generally thought that the island now known as Taiwan was relatively untrammeled by outsiders until the sixteenth century.]

Thus, if what is claimed as ‘previously possessed’ is what is really meant by the theory about the ‘inalienable Chinese territory since ancient times’, then surely Vladivostok and Sakhalin, now part of Russia, should by all rights be claimed by the People’s Republic as being integral to China’s inalienable territory. Shouldn’t we be instructing our students accordingly? If that is not permissible, then how is it justifiable to make sweeping historical claims over Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang and Taiwan? If history is to be taken seriously won’t these contradictory claims prove to be unacceptable both to the political entity in Beijing and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region?

4. 承上,歷代中國版圖經歷多次增減,沒有一處領土為中國人自古以來所必然擁有,例如商周時期香港以至廣東皆不在商周兩代版圖之內丶秦漢時期版圖仍未到達新疆西藏、三國時期之前沒有來自中土的政權涉足台灣,如果所謂的「自古以來論」只是「曾經擁有」,那麼今日屬於俄羅斯的海參威丶庫頁島及俄羅斯東南一大片領土皆是明清兩朝時期曾經擁有的領土,我是否應該教導學生這些今日屬於俄羅斯領土的地方是中國「自古以來的固有領土」?如果不能,何解香港西藏新疆台灣又是「中國自古以來不可分割的固有領土」?以上對中國歷代國土版圖的理解,又是否會構成中共中央或香港政府不容許的講法?


The Father of the Nation Sun Yat-sen studied in Hong Kong. Secretary Yeung, answer me this: If Sun was a student in Hong Kong today how would you regard him and his activities?

5. 孫中山是我們的國父,亦曾留學香港,如果在學時期的孫中山,活在今天的香港,楊局長又何以評價?


During the ‘May Fourth Movement’ of 1919, students took part in demonstrations, marches, petitions to the government and boycotts. They even engaged in physical violence against the authorities — for instance, they assaulted officials like Zhang Zongxiang who were selling out the interests of the nation, and they burned down Zhaojialou, the residence of Cao Rulin [the deputy minister of foreign affairs and a notorious supporter of Japanese interests in China].

Let me ask you then, Secretary Kevin Yeung: what’s your evaluation of ‘May Fourth’ and those who participated in it? Were they ‘patriotic students’ or where they ‘rioters’?

6. 1919年的「五四運動」,當中學生參與示威、遊行、請願、罷課丶甚至用武力對抗政府(痛打賣國官員章宗祥丶火燒另一名官員曹汝霖的家宅趙家樓),請問楊潤雄局長會如何評價「五四運動」及其參與者?他們是「愛國學生」還是「暴徒」?


There’s a well-known saying [taken from Romance of the Three Kingdoms]: ‘bad officials are but as rotten timbers’. Are you familiar with it? If not, I suggest you take a look in the mirror!

7. 最後,想問楊局長一句:你知道「朽木為官」是什麼意思嗎?照照鏡你就懂了!🤗


— Wu Chun Him
Committee Member of
The Hong Kong Arts Development Council (Art Education)
11 June 2020