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Education

In late January 1949, in response to the looming communist victory in the Chinese Civil War and increasing communist influence in international youth affairs, MacDonald decided to bring together education officials from Britain’s Southeast Asian colonies.60 The Soviet monopoly over youth movements via the World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY) and International Union of Students (IUS) was in its fourth year without a Western response.61 These communist front organizations, along with national communist parties in both the East and West, set their sights on colonial youth. Czechoslovakia’s branch of the WFDY was particularly worrying. In April, Prague offered scholarships for study there to students from a number of territories, including Cyprus and Hong Kong.62

On 23 and 24 June 1949, the directors of education from Hong Kong, Malaya, North Borneo, Sarawak, and Singapore met for what would become an annual conference to tackle common educational problems ( communism being a major issue) with a regional approach. From the beginning, it was Hong Kong, despite not being under the commissioner-general’s jurisdiction, which took the lead in these discussions.63 Soon after MacDonald opened the conference, the Hong Kong director of education, Thomas R. Rowell, stressed his conviction that the ‘preservation of the democratic way of life in the Far East depended on the action taken against Communist teaching in [...] schools’. Rowell tabled a paper called ‘Counter-Communist Education’, which concluded ‘that really effective counter-action must go beyond police, military, economic and diplomatic measures, and that there should be well-planned counter-Communist propaganda and counter-Communist educational activities’. These activities included ‘games, competitions, musical festivals and the extension of the Boy Scouts and similar Youth movements’.64

Rowell explained that these positive actions would be coordinated by a bureau of the Hong Kong Education Department. When this relationship between overt propaganda and education was challenged by the Malaya director, M. R. Holgate, Rowell replied that ‘an educationalist would be needed to decide how the work of the bureau should be carried out in schools’. The conference accepted Rowell’s report ‘as a basis of positive action on the part of the various Education Departments with the proviso that the suggested bureau should not be within the Department’. This proviso was ignored, and in July 1949, the Hong Kong government established the Special Bureau of the Education Department ‘to provide urgently needed counter action against communist propaganda in schools’. As discussed in Chap. 7, despite its mostly repressive objectives, the bureau stressed that Britain’s ‘best answer to Communism is something more dynamic, more appealing and better than Communism itself’.65 This dynamic and appealing ‘something’, however, was both elusive and expensive—a situation which haunted more than one colonial government as well as Whitehall.66

 
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