Since Hong Kong’s retrocession, the government has endeavoured to strengthen local citizens’ identification with the People’s Republic of China – a project that acquired new impetus with the 2010 decision to introduce ‘Moral and National Education’ (MNE) as a compulsory school subject. In the face of strong local opposition, this policy was withdrawn in 2012, and implementation of MNE made optional. This article seeks to elucidate the background to the MNE controversy of 2012 by locating the emergence of a distinctive Hong Kong identity in its historical context, and analysing successive official attempts (before and after the 1997 retrocession) to use schooling for purposes of political socialisation. We argue that the school curriculum has projected and reflected a dual sense of identity: a ‘Chineseness’ located mainly in ethno-cultural qualities, and a ‘Hongkongeseness’ rooted in civic attributes. While reinforced by schooling, local civic consciousness has been intimately related to a tradition of public activism strongly evident since the 1970s, and further strengthened post-1997.
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