The Treaty of Nanking was signed 170 years ago and, although its anniversary won't be marked by many, its legacy remains highly charged in the post-colonial era. Stuart Heaver reports. This report is taken from Post Magazine¡¦s 26th August 2012 edition.
A brief history of war:
The Treaty of Nanking, signed on board British ship HMS
Cornwallis on August 29, 1842, ended the first opium war (1839-1842). The war
was fought between the British Empire and Qing dynasty
The hostilities were painfully one-sided; ancient weaponry,
poor communications and under-equipped soldiers proved no match for
battle-hardened British forces fighting with the best technology of the day.
The treaty is regarded by the Chinese as an unequal agreement forced on it by
the British, who were determined to open
The treaty contained 13 sections, including the designation
of five new treaty ports and the payment of considerable reparations to
According to Carroll, the legitimacy of the Communist Party
is founded on its role as the defender of the Chinese people against foreign
imperialist aggression. "The CCP has always seen itself as having ended
foreign privilege in
So how should patriotic Hongkongers
commemorate the treaty in modern, reunified
¡§I think it's safe to say that
Perhaps in the pursuit of balance, the cabinet containing
the treaty is sandwiched between a memorial stone column dedicated to Lord
The museum refers to the Treaty of Nanking as a ¡¥watershed¡¦
and that's about as far as it is prepared to venture in terms of the legacy.
There is no examination of the trade in illegal narcotics that funded the new
colony, the racial discrimination in early colonial
¡§If you say bad things about the British or colonial government then it becomes easy to say bad things about SAR and PRC governments. It's much easier for them just not to be critical at all," says Carroll.
A short ferry trip north up the Pearl River to Humen, in
On entering the building, which rises like a space-age cathedral in a Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster, the preface - written in Chinese and English - reads: ¡§The British colonialists directed their aggressive target to China, attempting to open the door of China by contemptible means of armed invasion and opium smuggling ¡K The conspiracy of the British bourgeoisie was smashed by Chinese success in banning opium.¡¨
And there are several references to Hong Kong, including a
special exhibit dedicated to the reunification titled: ¡§The handing back of
Hong Kong avenges the 100 year insult at
The museum seems popular and on this visit there is a squad of smart People's Liberation Army recruits energetically marching up and down the promenade outside the exhibition halls with a huge red national flag being waved before them. As the guidebook makes clear, this is not just history, this is patriotism (or patriotic) education - and taking a dim view of the British role in the opium wars is an important component of it.
In Julia Lovell's highly acclaimed book Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and the Making of
¡§The opium wars birthday extravaganza was the start of one of the Communist party's most successful postMao ideological campaigns: patriotic education,¡¨ writes Lovell. In 1994, the People's Daily described patriotic education as a crusade designed ¡§to boost the nation's spirit, enhance its cohesion, foster its self-esteem and sense of pride.¡¨
This education includes talking up the achievements of Chinese, stirring films, feel-good sing-songs, compiling lists of heroes and, of course, endless references to the century of humiliation inflicted by foreign imperialism.
So, is the national education proposed for Hong Kong - curriculums are set to become compulsory at primary level in 2015 and in secondary schools a year later ¡V an amended version of the system that has proved so successful for Beijing on the mainland? The question returns us to baking hot Victoria Park.
¡§There is not a huge difference between the two,¡¨ says Tang, as she and her friends shuffle forward with the crowd, edging towards the government offices in Admiralty, ¡§although I have not yet seen any anti-Western content in the national education curriculum,¡¨ she admits.
¡§People in the
Just a short distance from Tang, a young man is waving a lion and dragon flag. The symbol has been adopted by the Hong Kong City-State Autonomy Movement, which is out in force. ¡§We don't want British rule again but we want to return to those glorious days,¡¨ says Mason Ma Yi, a mathematics teacher in a local government school, of the group's choice of flag.
So will his group be commemorating the Treaty of Nanking? ¡§I
didn't know about the anniversary,¡¨ he says, ¡§But I do know Hong Kong was
founded by the British and not by
What is his objection to a little Chinese culture and history being incorporated in the school curriculum now that the British are long gone?
¡§The Cultural Revolution killed most of the culture in
The Education Bureau web site offers some fascinating
teaching resources to assist staff grappling with the demands of the national
education initiative. These include, ¡§Web resources of Chinese folk songs,¡¨
¡§Military summer camp for Hong Kong youth,¡¨ ¡§National flag raising
in school¡¨ and ¡§understanding of the national anthem¡¨ and, of course,
¡§Celebration of reunification and an understanding of the national situation in
It is hard not to recall the passage from George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four that states ¡§he who controls the past controls the future and he who controls the present controls the past.¡¨
The treaty as represented by the lion and the dragon and
adopted by Ma and his colleagues now symbolises the battle for control of the
past and perhaps also signifies the identity crisis suffered by young people in
¡§That's the problem we have. We don't really have an
identity but our love for
The youngest member of the Autonomy Movement at the national education protest is l3-year-old schoolboy Conn Lee. He is proudly waving his flag and his glasses mist over with the effort in such intense heat ¡§I want to be a Hongkonger before I am Chinese,¡¨ he says.
So while the Treaty of Nanking is at the centre of the patriotic education campaign in the post-Tiananmen mainland, it has become a symbol of opposition to what objectors see as the cheap hybrid version of patriotic education about to be introduced in Hong Kong. Perhaps the treaty's lasting legacy is that it leaves many people of Hong Kong with an identity crisis they are struggling to resolve and a sense of pride in their distinctiveness, which they fear isn't being respected by Beijing.
Either way, with those blue colonial-style flags being waved energetically by demonstrators at mass rallies, the treaty appears to be leaping out of the margins of the history books and onto the front pages of news media.
Maybe Professor Carroll should have the last word on how
best to commemorate a historical event now weighed down with so much political
and emotional baggage that it dominates the relationship between Hong Kong and
the rest of
In a Hong Kong where many young people are struggling to define their post-colonial identity, where Beijing is trying to redefine its authority and where the Education Bureau seems determined to introduce a controversial programme of national education, those might be the most important questions of all.