Why rarely can you learn about wars in universities in Hong Kong?

Disclaimer: This is just a rant of a military buff. I do not intend to violate the National Security Law.

Main Library of HKU, Courtesy of Chromatograph on Unsplash

It is time to pick university courses for this semester again. As a military buff, I wanted to get myself some lectures on military affairs, stuff like military history and conflict theories. As I browsed the catalogue, I could count the number of military-related courses offered by the University on the fingers with one hand. (4 in this year to be exact.) Why is there so few military-related education?

Let's do a horizontal comparison with war-related courses offered this year (2020–2021) from all universities in Hong Kong. This included courses that are mainly talking about warfare, but not courses that involved war in some part of the lecture. I browsed the course catalogue of each university and searched for keywords including “war”, “military” and “conflict”.

HKU(4): Three history courses (World Wars, WWII Pacific Theatre, and Aerial Bombing)+ One common core course (Narratives of war)
CUHK(3): Two from Global Studies (Wars, and Insurrections)+ One from History (War and Society)
EDUHK(1): One about World Wars
HKBU(1): One about Global Military History
LingU(1): One from Political Science (Theories of War and Peace)
CityU(0): None
UST(0): None
PolyU(0): None

To my surprise, HKU is actually the local university that opened the most military-related course this year.

Heck, that’s what all I got for this semester. Severely underloaded, I have no clue about what should I take. (Screenshot of my enrollment record)

This phenomenon is not HKU specific. It seems to me that all universities in Hong Kong are not trying to introduce military knowledge to undergraduates. I wonder if this is a special case or all other universities were having the same level of awareness placed on military issues. To contrast with the situation in Hong Kong, let’s compare it with the curriculum of universities based in other cities. I attempt to search how many military-related courses that will be offered in other universities and extra events that introduces military issues to university students.

Talking about ordinary Chinese university students. Freshmen had to go through obligatory military training. The training lasts for a week or two, and drills on discipline and basic military knowledge. However, my cousin, a graduate of a university in Guangzhou, told me that they actually treated the training somewhat like a leisurely camp with extra physical training.

In the United Kingdom, there are a number of institutions offering military studies, conflict studies or peace studies. For Example, Kings’ College London and the University of Kent offered Military Studies for those who want to study in the discipline.

By comparison, information about wars is more readily accessible in other places. Tertiary students in other cities are forced or offer the opportunity to learn military knowledge. I think that the education system of Hong Kong actually prevents citizens to become familiar with military and defence issue. Exploring the reason for this phenomenon actually exposes us to a broader issue, that is, the consciousness of military and defence issues of the common Hong Kongers and society.

Why?

One possibility of this marginalization of military knowledge of Hong Kong people is that it is a delicate policy crafted by the Central Government to prevent chances of insurrection. In the Basic Law, it stated that Beijing is responsible for “foreign affairs and national defence” of Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Garrison is drawn from the Peoples’ Liberation Army but not recruited locally. The government may have seen the possession of such conflict knowledge could hamper the stability of the city as people would be more likely to take up armed opposition against the regime.

The anti-ELAB struggle could have been uncontrollable if the average youth were equipped with military knowledge and more organized. (Photo by Leung Yattin on Unsplash)

The lack of attention on military affairs within the Hong Kong society is remarkable. As Hong Kong is conceived a business-oriented city. Hence, it is logical for the higher education institutions to focus on business and finance while not placing adequate funding for arts and humanities. It is an interesting observation that many of the history courses offered by the universities are survey courses that examine a country’s history of a broad period of time. The faculties may simply do not have enough resource to organize courses on a “niche” topic.

Why social science departments also tend to miss out the focus on war, despite it being an important feature of human civilizations? My explanation would be there is a lack of experience of war in Hong Kong, such that war and conflicts are considered as a distant knowledge that would not be utilized by the students.

The Japanese Occupation of Hong Kong should be the most memorable moments of warfare. It was a very malleable historical event. Secondary school education focused on the brutality conducted during the Japanese occupation. Some claimed that the British Army abandoned Hong Kong citizens and glorified the Donjiang Column for their guerilla efforts. Not much of the preparation and conduct of warfare was touched by the public. Hence, the only remarkable experience of war was distorted and could not encourage citizens to think critically about military issues.

Another reason is that the universities simply lacked the professionals for the job. As universities are adopting the research-led teaching approach, professors lecture about their research interest. Military of Hong Kong is not a big academic field, hence not much academics specialized in studying conflict would come to work in this city. This may explain why there is a lack of supply of war-themed courses.

I have recently come across with a passage that reported that there the importance of studying conflicts in history is being neglected by American academics, despite being the greatest military power in the world. The focus was placed on more liberal issues such as sexuality and race. Worse, sometimes the study of war history was being dubbed as “warnogrpahy”. As the scholarly circle of Hong Kong is internationalized, the academics in Hong Kong might as well received the same influence, making them reluctant to research on the mechanics and examples of conflicts.

https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2021-01-31/max-hastings-u-s-universities-declare-war-on-military-history

Citizens may have a negative association with military education. I remember back in my childhood, parents would threaten to send me off to Whampoa Military Academy in Guangzhou for some “harsh” military training to discipline me. In this sense, military training sounds excruciating and naturally stops people from studying it. Furthermore, experiencing military life nowadays seemingly does not bring a sense of honour and glory. I wonder why: Maybe, we lived in peace for far too long.

I can’t say for sure if it is good for Hong Kong to neglect the education of military knowledge. At least for the government, it castrates Hong Kongers the ability to struggle in violence. Yet, if China wants to utilize Hong Kong as an integral part of China, I would argue that such education is essential to prepare for a generation that is prepared for long conflict against malign powers. Nonetheless, seeking military knowledge would be good for Hong Kong people to get prepared for the unforeseen, slightly pessimistic future.

P.S.

Allow me to pause my mumbo jumbos here. I feel like I have started a big topic that worthy of delving into the bookshelf and archives for documents, and I am ashamed by how I attempt to start a good topic with inadequate research. There are some many interwoven issues in between this seemingly naive topic.

Tell me more about how is the sense of national defence constructed in your home country, and, if I got something wrong, correct me!

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