Hong Kong protests and lockdown: Conversation with Dr Liz Jackson

By Dr Janet Orchard

In this post, Janet speaks with her friend and colleague Dr Liz Jackson from the University of Hong Kong regarding the situation in Hong Kong, where protests and Covid lockdown have marked life in the past months. 

I enjoyed catching up with good friend and academic colleague Liz Jackson on Skype this week in anticipation of her key note address to the first ever online University of Bristol School of Education Doctoral Conference on 5th-6th June 2020, which will bring together members of our doctoral community from Hong Kong as well as Bristol and all other parts of the world. You can find out more about Liz’s keynote here; the abstract for her talk is featured at the end of the post.

Liz and I haven’t see each other for months now; normally we would catch up in person three or four times each year; however, with all non-essential travel into Hong Kong from the UK suspended indefinitely for the time being, following the Covid outbreak, we decided to catch up via Skype instead. Our conversation continued in between opening our respective front doors to receive home deliveries: life under lockdown across two continents.

I was keen to know more from Liz about a recent piece she was invited to write on the impact of Covid for teaching and learning in Hong Kong for Postdigital Science and Education (read Liz’s powerful account here). Liz found it impossible to share about Covid in Hong Kong, she explained, without first setting the wider scene of the anti-extradition law protests in Hong Kong over the past year, one in a series of recent movements ongoing in Hong Kong related to Hong Kong’s status and the ‘one country, two systems’ arrangement with Mainland China. The Covid response in Hong Kong is certainly related to the past experience with SARS, as several commentators have indicated; however, Liz maintains that the virus also struck a society that was already in crisis. The rest of the world has been rocked by Covid, but Hong Kong society was already in shock, profoundly shaped by months of experiencing precariousness and instability, both politically and socially; in other words, putting it crudely perhaps, just another shock.

At a personal level, Liz told me about friends and colleagues around the world she has spoken to subsequently, as the pandemic has spread. She mentions her family and friends in the US in the piece. Fortunately, they are all fine and fairly confident that they had Covid, but due to lack of testing they do not know. They express tell-tale signs of shock, Liz observes, such as making energetic reactions and responses to challenges, trying to fix things, save the day, and work it all out. She added:

I personally wanted to appeal to them, and defend myself, in terms of moving more slowly and taking things easy. Catching me at this confused international moment, the article reflects on my experience with Covid as part of a broader experience of social crisis in Hong Kong, also suggesting the need for more international awareness of our connectedness. As these crises impact us all, even if we are not personally affected, understanding crisis and contingency requires new ways of thinking about social relationships and civic engagement.

In Hong Kong, meanwhile, there have been very few new cases in the past few months which means that as socialising ceases to be a taboo, the protests are back. Liz worries that political instability will be a key feature of the ‘new normal’ going forward, for Hong Kong and for the UK, US, and other societies around the globe. This is being overlooked, I reflect afterwards, amidst all the concern for ‘listening to the science’ by the dominant, but inherently unstable, policy discourse.

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To sign up for the School of Education virtual doctoral conference (5-6 June) and see Liz’s keynote, please see this Eventbrite page.

Liz’s keynote: “Ignoring History and Facts: The Ongoing Politicisation of Hong Kong Education”

Summary: Over the last tumultuous decade in Hong Kong, the topic of education has been in the front and centre stage of controversy and media coverage. As youth in secondary schools led the Umbrella Movement (2014-2015), while universities became battle grounds of the more recent anti-extradition protests (starting in 2019), popular discourse by politicians and others in media blamed the education system, anti-Mainland educators, and Liberal Studies, for radicalising and liberalising youth. While this message is spread time and again, it puts educators in a nearly impossible position. And it flies in the face of best evidence, based on academic research, about education’s role, historically and today, in Hong Kong.

In this lecture, Jackson will discuss her experiences of investigating Hong Kong education at multiple levels in relation to its civic and politicising influence. This includes discrete studies of the history of civic education in Hong Kong, student experiences with the Umbrella Movement, and research on the nature of the social studies curriculum in Hong Kong, including Liberal Studies. Offering a historical overview of this topic, Jackson also reflects on the challenges of doing research in a politicised climate. This lecture thus aims to offer both an academic analysis of political and civic education in Hong Kong, in relation to civic engagement—as well as personal reflections and insights, on the role of academic researchers to study important social events, thorns and all.

About Liz Jackson: Liz Jackson is currently an Associate Professor of Education at the University of Hong Kong and Director of its Comparative Education Research Centre. President of the Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia, one of the largest and most international academic associations of philosophy of education, Liz has published over 100 journal articles, book chapters, and books in the areas of philosophy of education, global studies in education, and multicultural and civic education. Her fourth book, Protesting Education and Identity in Hong Kong, will be based on her work over the last 8 years studying curriculum and youth civic engagement in Hong Kong. In September 2020, Liz will be taking up a new role as a Professor of Education at the prestigious Education University of Hong Kong.

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