08:03 25 Feb: Doing My Part to Protect HK: Gordon MathewsTranslated by HKCT, written by 晴韻 @ Stand News
Professor at The Chinese University of Hong Kong’s (CUHK) Department of Anthropology, Gordon Mathews conducted fieldwork at Chungking Mansions between 2006 and 2009 to study “low-end globalisation”.
Mathews, currently 65yo, could retire this coming August, move to his wife Yoko’s home country, Japan. However, he eventually chose to stay in Hong Kong; at the beginning of the month, he announced on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2868916283325752) that he already renewed his teaching contract with CUHK for the coming 3 years. Besides directing his graduate students’ research, he also remained because of his conviction of the importance of critical thinking.
His announcement on Facebook was probably a post that has garnered the most engagement and response on social media for him in recent years. He stressed that choosing to stay in Hong Kong to teach was not a foolhardy decision, but definitely not something that could be described as courageous. “Well, it’s a gamble.”
- Real Education -
Born in the US, Mathews used to teach in university in Japan, and moved to Hong Kong with his wife when he was hired by CUHK in 1994. Fluent in spoken Japanese and able to read the language, but his Cantonese remains limited to only enough proficiency to carry out a 5-min conversation with a taxi driver, such as “Do you like the Chinese government.”
In recent years, Gordon teaches subjects such as “Culture of Hong Kong”, “Globalisation and Culture”, “Humans and Culture”, and “Meanings of Life”. Though the subjects are different, they all revolve around the core of critical thinking. He emphasises that training students to think critically has always been the fundamental principle of higher education that he holds, “delineating all the facets of a topic and allowing students to select their stance and opinion according to different arguments.”
Mathews gave an example: Consider the various protests in Hong Kong over the past decade from various perspectives, and provide your personal view. He explained that the “various perspectives” must engage in discussions from Hong Kong and mainland China’s perspectives, as those two perspectives are a must, while other facets and perspectives should be used to supplement. At the same time, the response should be largely based on facts to demonstrate students’ comprehension of the topic at hand, then provide their own views based on the arguments presented, “That’s what I consider critical thinking.”
Critical thinking should not only be applied in exams or at school; Mathews hopes that students would retain this ability even when situated in a protest movement.
Mathews was one of the teaching staff who remained on campus during the battle at Bridge No. 2 in CUHK in Nov 2019. Recalling the course of events from 2 years ago, the most unforgettable moments weren’t of the fire and smoke, but the time he spent drinking beer with local and mainland Chinese students on the rooftop of the staff quarters during the siege at CUHK.
He joked, “That was the most prideful moment for me during the social movement…that’s what we should be doing. We should discuss, and of course not every person will agree with the other’s opinions, but at least there could be a civil conversation. This is most important. Critical education is what allows people to have this dialogue and rational communication.”
He often tells his students that non-violent protests and civil resistance are the ways forward. “I support the resistance movement, but I don’t agree with any form of violence, including those wielded by the police and the protesters. It’s stepping across the line, but understandable.”
Prior to Jun 2019, Mathews did not join any Anti-ELAB protests because he worried that having an American passport could fall into the trap of the CCP’s political propaganda, that of “foreign forces infiltrating Hong Kong.” However, he eventually chose to take to the streets.
“Because there were reports then that students were beaten and sexually assaulted by the police. I must be there for the students. Maybe I would only be there to observe, but to some degree it could prevent such things from happening, and students would act with more self-restraint and less violent.”
- Real Patriotism -
In 2008, Mathews, Lui Tai-lok and Eric Ma Kit-wai co-authored the book “Hong Kong, China: Learning to Belong to a Nation”. In their work, they pointed out that Hong Kong is one of the very few places in the world that does not know patriotism and did not have any patriots willing to die for Hong Kong. After the Handover in 1997, those who most stressed the identity of “Hongkonger” were also the ones most eager to emigrate. It was not until 2019 when he heard a student tell him for the first time that they would be willing to sacrifice their life for Hong Kong. Mathews felt that to a certain extent, this reflected a new feeling of “seeing Hong Kong as home.”
“Mainland has always wanted Hongkongers to learn to love their country, now Hongkongers do, but it is the wrong country. It’s Hong Kong but not China, which is very true.”
As for the Chinese government’s relentless attempts to impose a national identity on Hongkongers, Mathews finds these attempts laughable. He pointed out that most places in the world have national belonging training, such as he had to recite the Pledge of Allegiance since he was very young, and even after having left the US for decades, it’s still deeply ingrained in him. “Would that mean that I love the US? No! I hate the US, and seeing what the country has been doing the past few years, it’s clearly an evil country.”
“I’m aware that I want to remain loyal to Hong Kong…I think this feels like home, as I am emotionally connected to the city.” Could this be counted as a “patriot” for Hong Kong?
“I don’t like to use “patriots”, because I don’t feel that this world deserves to have patriots.” Mathews reiterated, “I like and value Hong Kong, but I hate the term patriotism, because it could easily turn into fanaticism.”