Meditations on Fluff: A Prologue to Mixed Marriages and the FHKGEP
Margaret Chu, D. Phil. Consultant, The Hong Kong America Centre
In 1905, the Qing Dynasty (16441911) abolished its civil service
examinations system, terminating a meritocratic system that had been in
operation in imperial China for millennia. Thenceforth selections of talents for the
officialdom and public recognition of abilities had to look elsewhere, in the newly
founded modern schools with their new curriculum, the reformed academies and,
still a practice that persisted for a while, the clan schools and private tutoring in
mandarin families. Structural and curriculum change eventually gave rise to the
historical debate between the classicists and the modernists over the abolition of
classical and literary Chinese as the medium of instruction in favour of the
vernacular. New curriculum introduced new subjects, new books and new ideas.
The late Qing witnessed a proliferation of translations of foreign ideas, Yan Fu,
who was unversed in any Western language, being one of the most famous
translators of Western texts. Amidst foreign imperialist aggression and
exploitation, economic and political turmoil, as well as natural disasters including
the bubonic plague, Chinese society was fraught with excitement and
extremities. It was poised for change.
New ideas gave rise to new consciousness, new forms of action, new
mentality. The 1911 Revolution six years later boasted of women radicals,
modern educated descendants of the traditional literati-gentry class, overseas
returned students, the new bourgeoisie, teachers in the modern schools, the new
working class and reform-minded officials. The last Qing Emperor abdicated,
thus ending an imperial tradition that had served China for millennia, a system
well-served by its civil service examinations system, a selection structure of
immense sophistication that has often been unfairly denigrated in our time.
Republican China adopted Western systems of government, banking, education,
while staffing them with the new elite. The torrents of change, however,
continued. Millennia-old traditions needed time to adapt. Meanwhile civil wars
and foreign invasions culminating in the Pan-Pacific War waged by the
Japanese, primarily on Chinese soil, devastated the countryside, and sent the
nations best minds to soul-searching, its intellectuals to seek solutions from
foreign ideas and its activists to radicalism. The 1949 Revolution witnessed
decades of excessive changes in China and a crazed, self-immolation of its
intellectual culture with concurrent annihilation of its educational system, which
effects on the Chinese psyche have yet to be studied.
Hong Kong has enjoyed a lighter chapter. It is a city within a huge
country. Its current government and the older generations amongst its
population remember, have seen or been a part of that turbulent period of
Chinas recent past. The British colonial government, for its part, was
conscious of a different historical lesson, one that was learnt the hard way from
its rulership in India. It is reasonable, then, to detect in Hong Kongs higher
education features quite unique to itself.
Faustian Rejuvenation of Civilisation
When Faust wakes up and Gretchen has drowned herself, his journey has
just begun; when the old couple find themselves displaced, Faust is intensely
preoccupied with nation-building.
Fundamental changes in education, in the case of modern Chinese
history, yield the narrative of complete overhaul of a countrys five thousand
years of historical development under the circumstance. Traumatic for the
nation, rotten roots have to be plucked out and, in the process, young shoots and
healthy roots as well. The HKSAR Government, through the University Grants
Council (UGC), mandated the abolition of the 5+2+3 system of secondary to
post-secondary education in favour of a 3+3+4 system. Taking into account a
younger group of first-year students in the cyber-space world of fewer siblings,
fast food and working mothers, integration with the Mainland and globalisation,
the UGC perceived a gap in the college students education that had to be filled
by tertiary institutions. Higher education is recognised increasingly as an
extension of secondary school, offering remedial programmes. Data learnt have
now to be digested and processed to feed into other channels where necessary.
Retentive memory is used most effectively together with the faculties of logic and
analysis, a process which also benefits immensely from exercising ones
intellectual capability at the same time. Learning cannot be done without
teachers. Inherent in the General Education reform is inevitably a demand for
pedagogical changes. When you teach differently, you necessarily assess
differently. Old styles of teaching are no longer desirable in the new types of
courses designed with new visions of the sort of minds to be nurtured, characters
to be developed, and socio-political consciousness to be espoused. Only history
has the privilege to follow the story to its endunless future generations
hastened Planet Earth towards its perdition.
A Touch of Likeness
An attractive feature of the HKSAR is its bureaucratic efficiency, lovable
certainly on the receiving end of its services but perhaps less so for those caught
in the labyrinth of authority. The a-historical assign credit to the British for having
imported a sophisticated civil bureaucracy. The comparatively more versed point
to Chinas own tradition of organising huge numbers of people for monumental
construction, of which the Great Wall stands out as an example. Millennia before
that was an ancient example of flood control efforts by the famous Da Yu of the
Xia Dynasty (ca. 21831752 B.C.) when hundreds of thousands of people had to
be mobilised to undertake the herculean task for substantial periods of time over
a range of terrain. Some historians, for their part, have shown that the reverse is
true: it was the Chinese who taught the British the operations and efficacy of a
bureaucratic civil service system. A fishing port within a huge country and a
colony under the former British Empire, the HKSAR has benefitted from both.
The University of Hong Kong was the signature tertiary institution that trained
competent and obedient civil servants who readily carried out orders from their
colonial masters without questions asked. Just say the word, and the job is
done. When reinforced by a bureaucratic tradition at once extremely
sophisticated and long lived, the die is cast: universities in the HKSAR will
perpetuate the bureaucratic culture come what may.
All Great Minds Think Alike: General Education and the Confucian Tradition
The six core areas of study in imperial China were: rites and propriety,
music, archery, charioteering, book learning and mathematics, while the core
texts were The Four Books and the Five Classics. Learning was emphasised for
the sake of the Self, wei ji zhi xue, because the Self was where everything spins
off: It is only after you manage to cultivate yourself that you can harmonise the
family, govern the country and, finally, bring peace to the world. And the way to
cultivate yourself is through rectification (systematic analysis) of things, extension
of knowledge, sincerity of intent and a correct mind-and-heart. In short, imperial
China opted for breadth of learning, which included the aesthetic and physical
prowess, humane and mathematical subjects, all of which backed by core texts
for the sake of self-cultivation, while the nurturing of the self requires intellectual
capability, mental acumen, ethical development and psycho-physical
preservation. It was not just the ancient Greeks (such as Plato in his Republic)
who had thought about the matter along the same lines, the Chinese had come
to similar conclusions. General education, very much an American brand, is
finding itself cross-fertilised through the Fulbright Hong Kong General Education
Programme. Better produce are yet to come in the course of time.
Journey to the West
That is, journey westwards to the EastAsia.
The Fulbright Scholar Programme advertised on the website
(www.cies.org) of the Council for International Exchange of Scholars (CIES),
announces a New Fulbright Scholar Award Building a General Education
Curriculum in Hong Kong Universities:
Recipients of these new awards will work with Hong
Kong universities as they prepare for a transition from a three-year undergraduate program to a four-year undergraduate program in September 2012. Grantees will be part of a team that will be coordinated by the Hong Kong-America Center (HKAC). The team will work with all of the Hong Kong institutions. Each grantee will also be affiliated with one of Hong Kongs tertiary institutions where the
grantee will consult with colleagues and the committee that have responsibility for developing the general education curriculum and courses for the new undergraduate program. Grantees will also teach one course in their area of specialisation. With support from the U.S. Department of State, the awards are made possible by a generous grant from Po Chung, a Hong Kong businessman and entrepreneur, and the University Grants Committee of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
That is to say, apart from coming to Hong Kong with the support of the U.S.
Department of State, these Fulbright Scholars are coming as guests to Hong
Kongs universities invited by a generous gift from a private individual with a
matching grant from the UGC of the Hong Kong Government for the stated
purposes and functions.
While these American scholars will work with Hong Kong scholars who
are developing general education in their host universities, their housing will be
provided by the host universities.
In addition, they will be affiliated with the Hong Kong-
America Center, a consortium of Hong Kong universities, and will work together as a team to strengthen general education in all HK universities in the run-up to September 2012. The HKAC will convene regular working meetings of the Fulbright scholars and their HK colleagues to share experience and promote collaboration among universities.
This website, http://www.cuhk.edu.hk/hkac, further elaborates in its
announcement of the Fulbright Hong Kong General Education Program In Hong
The Fulbright scholars will be affiliated with the
general education units and will be cross-assigned to appropriate academic departments for some teaching responsibilities and collegial interaction with local scholars in their fields.
In addition, some macro outline of work distribution is indicated:
We expect the Fulbright scholars to teach about half-
time and to reserve other time for developmental work on general education at their host universities, as well as to collaborate across institutions on general education where appropriate.
The international angle of the Award is brought to bear. Not merely for the
usefulness of administration purposes to support the development of general
education in Hong Kong has the Award been endowed but also for the benefit of
students for which education is about, the HKAC announcement envisages that:
the Fulbright scholars in the FHKGEP will remain
engaged with their HK host universities to develop partnerships for student exchanges. These may involve two-way movement of students and/or the joint delivery of general education via technology reflecting Asian and Western dimensions of world civilisation. We also hope these returned Fulbright scholars will advocate for a greater place for Asian civilisation in general education programs in American universities.
Dissimilar in mission but not so in spirit, Chinese Buddhists in more identifiable
designation and intellectuals interested in metaphysics had played that role since
at least the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.A.D. 220), culminating in the famous
pilgrimage to the west by Xuanzang (596664), founder of the Faxiang School of
Buddhism, philosopher and translator. There were many other contacts and
interactions in the meantime, not only via the Silk Road but especially with Korea,
Japan and, later, Vietnam, the last group of which were cultural and intellectual
as well. The final period of benign intellectual and religious exchange before the
onslaught of imperialism in the nineteenth century would have to be the Jesuits
during the early Qing Dynasty. Until the Vatican interfered with the practice of
ancestor veneration by Chinese converts, the Kangxi Emperor (16621722)
received his foreign guests almost with open arms, curious about Western
philosophy and science, tolerant of missionaries registered with a licence.
Beyond chinoiserie, Chippendale furniture, porcelain, silk and a variety of cultural
artefacts, Europe was perhaps more insular intellectually with respect to Chinese
philosophy although Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (16461716) had made reference
to it. Reforms in German universities are said to have been influenced to a
degree by the Chinese examinations system, as was the British civil service
system to an extent.
History tells a mixed story. Yin and yang operate each on its own and on
each other, giving rise to the Five Agents, wuxing:
By the transformation of yang and its union
with yin, the Five Agents of Water, Fire, Wood, Metal, and Earth rise. When these five material forces (chi) are distributed in harmonious order, the four seasons run their course. The Five Agents constitute one system of yin and yang, and yin and yang constitute the Great Ultimate. The Great Ultimate is fundamentally the Non-ultimate. The Five Agents arise, each with its specific nature.1
Human nature shares universal, common denominators but individual human
beings each have their unique combinations and permutations. It is never wise
to generalise. Culture and civilisation are terms that are meant to generalise.
The Chinese intellectual tradition, to be draconian about our generalisation, is
essentially non-theistic and without creation myth. When asked about ghosts
and spirits, or the after-life, Confucius famously replied that he would not
deliberate on that which he does not know and his attitude towards ghosts and
spirits (as is towards anything) is due respect. This sentiment underlies the
consciousness of many a Chinese, and may still be relevant in our appreciation
of the Peoples Republic of China. It explains the Kangxi Emperors annoyance
with missionaries who carped at our customs. It also signifies areas that are
off-limits for international conversion. For the cultural anthropologist, these may
be viewed as characteristics that distinguish one civilisation from another.