The Education Ordinance

Youth was one of the most important cultural battlegrounds in the Cold War as well as a major focus of colonial development and reform.40 By June 1948, ‘[t]he importance of influencing the young’, one of Grantham’s reports concluded, ‘seems in Hong Kong as elsewhere, to be fully realized by the Communists’. As early as 1945, Hong Kong authorities observed the establishment or infiltration of schools by communist agents or procommunist teachers, especially in the New Territories and areas contiguous with mainland China. In 1948, British authorities identified a long list of problem areas, including schools set up to educate the children of workers as well as teacher unions (e.g. the Kowloon Teachers Welfare Association), cultural organizations (e.g. the Hung Hung Choir), and publications (e.g. H.K. Students’ Weekly).41

In addition to local activities and societies both inside and outside of the classroom, the CCP also aimed to influence the youth of Hong Kong through the appeal of national and international organizations. By January 1948, the CCP had established in Hong Kong the underground liaison office of the National Student Federation of China. From Hong Kong, according to the JIC(FE), the federation arranged travel, including the procurement of false passports, for its delegates to the Southeast Asia Youth Conference in Calcutta, where they supposedly ‘played an important and extremist role’. On top of links with the communist-dominated WFDY and IUS, the National Student Federation of China built up contacts in India, Burma, Siam, Malaya, and various European countries, with the supposed aim ‘to lead the youth and student organisations of South East Asia in the fight against the colonial powers’.42

Grantham considered communist infiltration in schools to be a most significant ‘danger’.43 In fact, earlier that year, on 13 April 1948, four Chinese youths, between the ages of 16 and 17, left their village in the New Territories and headed for a town called Sha Wan across the border in China. They were arrested en route by Chinese soldiers, interrogated, and accused of belonging to the ‘Little Devils’ Corps of the CCP’s People’s Liberation Army. On 15 April, the four children were executed by shooting under the KMT’s Suppression of Communists Military Orders.

The commanding officer at Shum Chun, Colonel Leung Kei, informed Hong Kong that he was troubled by the number of Hong Kong youths swelling the Red Army’s ranks.44

According to Grantham, many in the colony called for the Hong Kong government to take a stand against these illegal executions of British subjects, let alone children. Grantham, however, argued that the ‘strong presumption in this case that they may have been persons influenced by Communist propaganda makes it inadvisable to intervene’. He intended to avoid any accusation of the Hong Kong government ‘giving encouragement to Communists’.45

Far from simply a desire to remain neutral in Chinese politics, Grantham’s inaction was part of a wider anti-communist agenda, which increasingly focused on the colony’s youth. Less than two months after the executions, the Hong Kong government began applying, in Grantham’s words, ‘discreet official pressure’ on schools harbouring communist agents, and six teachers were subsequently dismissed. Such tactics, however, were deemed to be too narrow. The government thus began contemplating proposals explicitly ‘to counter Communist activities in New Territory schools’.46

On 23 November 1948, Thomas R. Rowell, the Hong Kong director of education (1946-1951), requested amendments to the Education Ordinance of 1913 to empower him to reject or revoke teacher registrations. He explained to the Hong Kong Executive Council that these powers were necessary to counter ‘the spread of communist influence in schools in Hong Kong’, especially as ‘these schools are known to be recruiting for armed communist organizations in South China’.47 The legislation was quickly drafted, and on 30 November, Grantham sought Creech Jones’s ‘urgent authority’ to amend the ordinance ‘to empower the Director [of Education] in his absolute discretion to refuse to register any teacher or school and to cancel the registration of any registered teacher or school’. While he realized that such an amendment would grant the director extraordinary power, Grantham, with the unanimous support of his Executive Council, was convinced that communist actions in ‘schools cannot be curbed by any less stringent measures’.48

The amendments were met the following day with approval from a Colonial Office meeting of top officials and ministers, including Paskin, Rees-Williams (parliamentary under-secretary of state for the colonies), and Sir Thomas Lloyd (the permanent under-secretary of state for the colonies). Creech Jones thus sent his approval of the amendments to Grantham in December.49

Less than ten days later, at an opening ceremony for a new middle school, Grantham alerted the audience to the danger of

those, and to my mind they are the most evil, who wish to use schools as a means of propaganda and poison the minds of their young pupils with their particular political dogma or creed of the most undesirable kind. This we know is what happened in the schools of Fascist States and is now happening in Communist-dominated countries. This deforming and twisting of the youthful mind is most wicked and the Hong Kong Government will tolerate no political propaganda in schools.50

While careful not to implicate overtly the CCP, this was a rare public confession from Grantham of the truth behind British policy-making in Hong Kong, specifically about education. And the truth was not neutrality; it was British policy-makers meeting the perceived communist-imperialist enemy on the cultural battlefields of the Cold War. In February 1949, the first casualty of the new Education Ordinance was the Tat Tak Institute, a notorious college which employed famous left-wing intellectuals and attracted students from all over Southeast Asia. Subsequent action was taken against certain schools for workers’ children; Rowell revoked a number of teacher registrations and replaced these institutions with government-run schools.51

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