Schoolchildren in Hong Kong from kindergarten upwards will be required to take part in regular ceremonies to raise the Chinese flag, which have included goose-stepping, saluting and reverential “etiquette” when performed in public by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
All primary and secondary schools, special schools and kindergartens in Hong Kong will be required to hold a flag-raising ceremony, with the nationalistic ritual expected once a week in primary and secondary schools from Jan. 1, 2022, the city’s education bureau said in a circular.
The move is aimed at “promot[ing] national education … and an affection for the Chinese people,” a spokesperson said in a statement dated Oct. 11.
All primary and secondary schools must display the national flag on every school day, as well as on Jan. 1, the July 1 handover anniversary and on China’s Oct. 1 National Day, the bureau said.
“Schools are also required to conduct a national flag raising ceremony weekly and on the above days or the preceding/following school day,” the directive said. “The national anthem should be played and sung in a national flag raising ceremony.”
Ceremonies should also take place at sporting events and graduation days, it said.
The spokesperson said kindergartens should follow suit, space and facilities permitting, while international and private schools are also “encouraged” to adopt the practice.
Teaching and learning materials linked in the circular say teachers and students should watch video footage of official flag-raising ceremonies, including the one marking the July 1 anniversary of the 1997 handover to Chinese rule.
At the most recent flag-raising ceremony outside the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on July 1, 2021, PLA soldiers used a ceremonial “goose-step” for the first time, as well as an elaborate set of maneuvers including timed unfurling of the flags and gloved military handlers in ceremonial dress directed by a sword-wielding officer.
To prepare for the ceremonies, students should watch and describe such ceremonies, then perform a role-play “so as to experience the proper etiquette and respectful attitude, such as standing solemnly, facing the national flag and singing the national anthem in a respectful way, when the national anthem is played and sung,” the directive said.
According to recent laws governing China’s national emblems and anthem, the national flag must be displayed in a position of prominence where it appears alongside the bauhinia flag of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
“The national flag, when raised and carried in a procession with the regional flag, shall be in front of the regional flag,” the guidelines state, while organizers must take care to retrieve flags used in ceremonies, and return any damaged flags or emblems to the government.
“They must not be displayed upside down, and must not be displayed or used in any way that undermines their dignity,” the guidelines state.
Recent legislation has criminalized any burning, soiling or trampling of the Chinese flag in Hong Kong, as well as the posting or publication of images of such actions.
The directive comes amid a city-wide crackdown on public criticism of the Hong Kong government and the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that has seen dozens of pro-democracy politicians and activists arrested for “subversion” after taking part in a democratic primary that was deemed a bid to undermine the government by voting against it in the Legislative Council (LegCo).
As the flag-raising directive was published, the city’s oldest opposition party, the Democratic Party, said none of its members had submitted an application to run in December’s LegCo elections, in which candidates must run a gauntlet of vetting processes, including one by the national security police.
Dickson Chau, vice chairman of the pro-democracy League of Social Democrats, said nobody feels safe taking part in opposition politics under the national security law.
“Neither candidates nor voters feel safe any more,” Chau told RFA. “As long as your political views are different from those of the government, you will pay a heavy price regardless of the outcome [of the election].”
“If during the election, something you say displeases the government then they can bring criminal charges even after they have disqualified you,” he said. “In the past … people were vying with each other to run as candidates, but now it’s just dead silence.”
He said the national security crackdown and changes to the electoral system in the wake of the 2019 protest movement had removed most avenues for political opposition and activism.
“The groups that used to represent people’s voices have fallen, one by one … There was once a plethora of organizations bringing broader public opinion into the legislature and making the administration behave in a more reasonable manner,” Chau said.
“Now, that doesn’t exist any more, and the … the government will only hear flattery and loyalty, which can’t lead to a good outcome, only a deepening of public grievances, which will erupt eventually,” he said.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.