Cry CU 有關中大國際化討論

星期一, 2月 14, 2005

eliza 李詠儀的公開信

February 12, 2005

Dear Students

I am writing this letter in English solely because I can type and write
much faster in English than Chinese, and with the pressure of work I do
not have time to translate this into Chinese. I also feel that writing
in English will allow my ideas to reach our non-Chinese reading students
and colleagues, thus fostering a more inclusive dialogue. I hope the
English will not constitute an intellectual or psychological barrier
between us while I try to get my message across.

Recently, I have been reading a lot of comments by students on the issue
of language of instruction, including of course the letter written by
the Students’ Union. I am not here to defend the policy of the
university, and in fact I believe there is much room for improvement
regarding the policy formulation of “internationalizing the student mix”
and the consultative process. The purpose of this letter is, however, to
offer my response to the major arguments advanced in your comments.
The argument against the use of more English as the teaching language
has so far been framed in terms of four themes: 1) nationalism and
decolonization; 2) the mission of The Chinese University of Hong Kong;
3) effective learning, which requires the need to be educated in one’s
mother tongue; 4) cultural rights and identity. I would like to explore
whether these four themes should lead us to the conclusion that
Cantonese should be used exclusively or predominantly as our language of

Nationalism and decolonization – Many of you argue that English is
simply a language of the former colonizer that was imposed on us.
Moreover, a relationship of domination and subordination between the
colonizer and the colonized was established through culturally
privileging English and belittling Chinese. Decolonization requires us
to rediscover our Chinese roots, and thus Chinese should now replace
English as the dominant language in all levels of communication. This
argument should have led us to reflect on the fact that the dominance of
Cantonese in Hong Kong, as much as the dominance of English, is the
result of colonialism. British colonialism have led to the negligence of
Putunghua education and the raising of several generations of HK Chinese
that are poor speakers of Putunghua, thus rendering them unable to
communicate with the majority of the Chinese population and their fellow
Chinese citizens. The recognition of this historical shame should have
obligated us - to greatly expand the use Putunghua instead of Cantonese as the medium
of instruction in CUHK and all levels of schooling.

At the same time, we should be critically aware of the fact that
Cantonese is not even the indigenous language of Hong Kong, and that the
dominance of Cantonese is the outcome of a historical process of
hegemony and homogenization that is arguably no less violent than
British colonialism. Just think of all the new migrants who even today
are regarded as less “Hong Kong” and discriminated against by the
majority of HK Chinese because they cannot speak accentless Cantonese.
The original inhabitants of HK were the Tankas and the Hakkas, who each
spoke their own dialect. The majority of the population here are
migrants or their offsprings and descendants. Although Cantonese
speaking people have constituted the majority of them, there have always
been a significant number of migrants from various places in China,
whose mother tongues are not Cantonese. In fact, as recently as the
1950s, Hong Kong was a multiethnic society consisting of multiple
linguistic communities, such as : Shanghaiese, Chiuchauese, Fujianese, Toisanese, Shantungese, Hunanese, Ningpoese, Hakkas, Tankas, and many more. On top of that, there are
non-Chinese ethnic groups who have lived in Hong Kong for generations,
and whose ancestors came from Britain, Portugal, Russia, Central Asia,
India, Southeast Asia, among other places. If the logic of
decolonization means a total rejection of what was culturally imposed on
us, we should have rediscovered either our Chineseness by fully adopting
Putunghua as the official spoken language, or our multicultural roots by
giving due regard to the rights and heritages of all linguistic
communities. Either way, the hegemony of Cantonese should be questioned
and de-legitimized.

The mission of CUHK -- It has long been the mission of this university
to promote bilingualism (meaning Chinese and English) and biculturalism
(especially bridging the Chinese and the Western culture). What the
founders of the three colleges (that originally constituted CUHK) had in
mind was definitely not promoting a Hong Kong-Cantonese culture (which
did not even exist in the 1950s when the colleges were founded), but the
national Chinese culture. Ideally, to fulfill the mission of
bilingualism and biculturalism, Puotunghua and English should be the
major language of instruction of CUHK, and Cantonese should not have a
strong presence. Many of you have claimed that CUHK has always upheld
teaching in mother tongue. This could be true to the extent that the
University has supported the use of mother tongue in foundational
education. But I am not aware that CUHK has a policy of teaching in
mother tongue, as there has never been a recruitment policy that
requires all teaching -staff be fluent in Cantonese.

Effective learning -- The third argument contends that mother tongue is
always the most effective way of learning, and the use of any other
second language will compromise the purpose of education. This argument
on the right to be educated in one’s mother tongue is somewhat at odds
with the first two arguments which, according to my analysis, would have
required that Cantonese not be used as the primary teaching language but
be put back to its place as a dialect. Interestingly, given this
assertion, the student union in their open letter felt that it was
perfectly legitimate to demand Mainland Chinese students to study in
Cantonese which is often their second, third or even fourth language
(after their own local dialect and English). While upholding the
sanctity of learning in one’s mother tongue, they also conceded that
they fully understood the importance of English but felt that its use
should only be confined to “reading materials”.

If the use of Cantonese were the sole factor constituting “effective
learning”, it would require that the teaching staff of our entire
university be Cantonese-speaking people only. It would require that CUHK
stop admitting students whose mother tongue is not Cantonese. It would
require that the university stop running all international exchange
programs, especially not to send our students to foreign universities
because there is no way they can learn “effectively” in a non-Cantonese
environment. It would even mean that we stop inviting distinguished
international visitors to come in and give public lectures because,
after all, how effectively can students learn from their English (or
Puotunghua) presentations anyway?

Obviously, if we turn our university into a Cantonese-only campus, it
will seriously impoverish the academic environment and lower the quality
of education, and will not be conducive to “effective learning”.
Conversely, if we admit that the use of English is important if not
inevitable, then “effective learning” must be understood as a
multidimensional concept. I believe there are multiple factors that
contribute to “effective learning” in the context of our university. For
one thing, the teaching staff of CUHK have long been an
internationalized group, and this has directly contributed to the
quality of education here. There is no evidence to show that Cantonese
speaking teachers are always more effective than their non-Cantonese
speaking counterparts. Some of the recipients of the best teaching
awards have been English speaking teachers. Many non-local teachers have
performed extremely well in teaching evaluations. More importantly, the
use of English has allowed both the teachers and students of CUHK to have direct linkage with the centers of knowledge production that predominantly reside in the
English-speaking world. Taking Political Science as an example, even
China Studies today is a heavily English-dominated field of studies. The
best centers of China Studies are physically located in the West. The
major international journals and writings on Chinese politics are
published in English, not Chinese. Major international conferences are
conducted in English. In short, the use of English is pertinent to
maintaining the quality of education of this university. Time and
expertise do not allow me to comment on the situation of all those
monolingual countries such as France, Germany and Japan that are
teaching exclusively in their own mother tongue. (I do know that at
least France and Germany are opening in recent years and some of their
universities are offering programs and courses in English in order to
attract international students.!

) In any event, I do not think Hong Kong’s situation is comparable to
theirs, and I do not see how our quality of education will not be
seriously compromised if we insist on teaching exclusively or
predominantly in Cantonese.

Thus none of the three arguments, naming, nationalism and
decolonization, the mission of the university, and effective learning,
makes a sufficient case for using Cantonese exclusively or predominantly
in CUHK. Instead, they all seem to point to the need for students to
master multiple languages. Even without the issue of
“internationalizing” our student mix, I doubt that we have a strong case
to uphold Cantonese as the major medium of learning.
Cultural rights and identity -- In many of your comments, the argument
has been advanced that the history of western colonialism and the
current trend of globalization have brought about the hegemony of the
English-speaking world and their cultures, and have threatened the
survival of other languages and cultures. English has certainly become
the de facto supranational language, not only in the academic community
but also in many areas of social and cultural exchanges. We certainly
need to be highly vigilant of any unhealthy trend toward global
monolingualism. On the other hand, the way to combat this trend is not
to withdraw ourselves from participating in the center of knowledge
production or other international exchanges. For one thing, the
participation of non-Western people in the academic discourse of the
English-speaking world has actually helped subvert the hegemony of
western-centered scholarship. The scholarships of cultural studies and
postcolonial studies are examples of such “subversive” knowledge brought about by English-speaking
intellectuals such as Edward Said and Gayatri Spivak who are of Third
World origins. As far as Chinese people are concerned, actively
participating in international activities and promoting the development
of Chinese culture are not mutually exclusive. In fact, active learning
from other cultures will serve as a major source of innovation to our
Chinese culture, and active interaction between Chinese and other
cultures will augment the impact and contribution of Chinese culture to
the rest of the world. In fact, quite many scholars have also pointed
out that in the amidst of globalization and the spread of English as a
global language, what we are witnessing is convergence not toward global
monolingualism but rather multilingualism in which people will be
expected to master a few languages. As the Students’ Union has mentioned
in its open letter, more and more international students are interested i!
n coming to this part of the world to learn Chinese, and this by itsel
f is already an indication of the multilingual trend. But then why
should students of CUHK allow themselves to lag behind this multilingual
trend by insisting on learning in Cantonese exclusively?

This brings us to the issue of Hong Kong’s cultural identity and how it
can contribute to China’s development. Many of you have insisted that
the predominance of Cantonese is crucial to the preservation of our
cultural identity. I beg to disagree. Aside from what I have already
pointed out as the need to rediscover the multilingual roots of Hong
Kong, we should also recognize that English has a central place in our
economic, cultural, social and political spheres. I do not wish to deny
that such strong presence of English is a legacy of our colonial past.
On the other hand, I would question whether it is in the best interest
of Hong Kong or China as a whole to dismantle such infrastructural
characteristics of Hong Kong. For one thing, our common law system which
has significantly contributed to the rule of law and the protection of
our way of life is entirely based on English. What we think of as the
“indigenous” cultural traits of Hong Kong are mostly “foreign” in o!
rigin. They are actually the product of the fusion of the cultures of
the migrant population and the foreign cultures that we have actively
imported over the course of a hundred and sixty years. In this sense,
Hong Kong culture, as many cosmopolitan migrant culture, is a fusion
culture. The very possibility of such fusion culture is the openness of
this society to international influence -- and this is what makes us
unique and distinct from the rest of China. Those who argue for
Cantonese as the foundation of our indigenous culture are merely asking
Hong Kong to turn inward. Such closing of the Hong Kong mind will only
suffocate the continuous rejuvenation of our indigenous culture and sow
the seeds of our own demise. In the past century, the characteristic of
Hong Kong as an open society situated at the margins of the East and the
West have contributed significantly to China’s development. Postcolonial
Hong Kong should continue to play such “linkage” role if we wish to !
contribute to the development of China and the Chinese culture in the
21st century.

I do not claim to have answers to all the questions regarding the debate
on the language of instruction, but I do hope that my views on these
issues will offer some insights for you to rethink the issues of the
mission of CUHK and our own cultural identity. I welcome your feedbacks
to my comments.

With Best Regards,
Eliza W.Y. Lee, Associate Professor Department of Government and Public



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