Politics of 'the Rule of Law' in Hong Kong Liberal Studies Curriculum (1991-present): A Bernsteinian Perspective

Year: 2017

Author: Kwok, Henry

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper seeks to understand from the sociological perspective the changing conceptions of 'the rule of law' in a highly controversial school subject in Hong Kong secondary education: Liberal Studies. First introduced in 1991 as an elective subject for Years 12/13 students, Liberal Studies has been made a statutory core subject for all students under the New Senior Secondary (NSS) academic structure (Years 10-12) implemented since 2009. Through tracing the discursive construction of 'the rule of law' in three sets of official curriculum texts (1991, 2000 and 2009), this paper argues that despite public aspirations for democratisation and upholding 'the rule of law' as a tradition and legal principle inherited from the British common law jurisdiction, content descriptions of 'the rule of law' in the postcolonial curriculum contain only flimsy, simplified and de-politicised conceptual explanations if compared with the first syllabus launched in the colonial era. Borrowing the words of late British sociologist Basil Bernstein, I argue that while this discursive shift in Liberal Studies curriculum reflects the weakening of 'framing' and provides a 'potential discursive gap' and autonomy for 'unthinkable' and 'dangerous' knowledge to be taught and learnt in Hong Kong schools (for example, 'the rule of law', which contradicts the state ideology of Chinese communism), the subject itself is still embedded in a strongly classified secondary curriculum characterised by a strong state control. The post-millennial education reform in Hong Kong, which runs parallel to the sovereignty transfer from the British to Chinese rule in 1997, seems to refract a wider crisis of political legitimacy and postcolonial ambivalence of Hong Kong under the 'one country, two systems' constitutional abnormality.