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Hong Kong Film Exposes the Pitfalls of National Education

Ho Tat Tsim’s film The True Story of Ah Poon is a reaction against National Education in Hong Kong.

On November 17, Ho Tat Tsim’s film The True Story of Ah Poon was screened at the TC2 Cafe in an event hosted in part by Occupy Central organizer Kin Man Chan, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The 31 minute long film was directed by Ho in 2010 as a project for his studies at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, and it has taken on an anti-national education message.

Ah Poon is a taxi driver who follows his beliefs, but his beliefs quickly come into conflict with the authorities at his daughter’s school. Early on in the film, his daughter is filling in a test worksheet that asked, ‘Which of the following is not a word that describes the Chinese people?’ The correct answer was a person of the “grassroots”, an answer which Ah Poon found offensive. (Chinese people can be grassroots, right?) Ho Tat Tsim said that he used the same content he had seen published in some school curriculums. He had previously done some promotional films for school agencies.

The film later shows Ah Poon’s daughter’s essay being rejected because the teacher and principal thought it was too critical of Chinese society. Many Hong Kong people think that national education will foster an atmosphere of indoctrination towards the glory of Chinese culture and politics, as the China Chronicle previously reported. Film has always been an important medium for discussing Hong Kong issues, so much so that tens of thousands of people recently took to the streets in support of an innovative TV network that the government blacked out. The film was awarded Best Drama at the South Taiwan Film Festival.

I interviewed director Ho Tat Tsim after the screening. Before you read the interview, first watch some of the trailers.

The movie shows a teacher teaching a lesson about China’s recent achievements, including the Shenzhou space program, the Three Gorges Dam, and the 2008 Olympics. As a person of Chinese heritage, are you proud of your Chinese heritage?

“In national education, we only talk about the good things of the Chinese government. We should also talk about the others, not just the good things. With the Beijing Olympics, they wanted to spend a lot of money to make a big show out of it, but they don’t care about the real everyday things.”

The movie also included scenes of the taxi driver confronting a drug dealer. When he found out his passenger was a drug dealer, he kicked him out of the cab. Later the drug dealer threw white paint on his cab. Does the drug dealer subplot have anything to do with the message about national education?

“I just wanted to build up the character of Ah Poon. I want to show when a person faces national education, how will he react?”

Later in the film, Ah Poon sees a customer stealing wine at 7-11, but, although he is disturbed by it, he doesn’t react because he has already gotten himself into a mess for responding to the school and to the drug dealer.

Do you consider yourself a member of the grassroots?

“Before I made this film, I was not from the grassroots level. A lot of people are surprised I made this film because they thought I wasn’t interested in politics.”

The Chinese name of the film is simply Ah Poon (阿潘). The English name of the film is The True Story of Ah Poon. Why did you choose this title?

“The English name is inspired by a traditional Chinese story by Lu Xun [the story is called The True Story of Ah Q].”

Lu Xun (1881-1936), a leading Chinese author associated with the May Fourth Movement and Chinese leftism, is referred to a few times in the film. In one scene, Ah Poon tells his passenger to read Lu Xun’s short story collection A Call to Arms.

“I also feel strange about that, because the Chinese government also uses Lu Xun to support their positions. I think its ironic that the [Communist] government still uses Lu Xun as an idol when he was opposing the Nationalist government’s dictatorship in his writings.”

Lu Xun died in 1936 before the Chinese government founded the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

Filed under: Art and Music, China, Education, Hong Kong

About the Author:

Mitchell Blatt is the editor of map magazine and the lead author of the Panda Guides Hong Kong guidebook. Download his ebook about traveling in rural Guizhou here. has written 15 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

Mitch Blatt is currently in: Nanjing, ChinaMap

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