Politics, power, and ethnic minority children’s rights in postcolonial Hong Kong

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Post-colonial Hong Kong is faced with a multilingual and multi-ethnic population and a structured ethnic stratification in which South/Southeast Asians (speaking a primary language rather than Cantonese) from less economically-advanced countries are positioned as a non-Chinese non-Anglo underclass. This study utilises the Bourdieusian conception of linguistic capital, examining colonial and post-colonial language-in-education policies pertaining to South/Southeast Asian children. It discusses ways these policies impact on children’s rights to a non-discriminatory social studies education and to empowering curriculum knowledge. Following a documentary analysis and an interview study, the research results reveal that language policy in post-colonial Hong Kong moves swiftly from diglossic and superposed bilingualism to triglossic. In particular, the increasing value of Cantonese as a defining characteristic of citizenship and education since 1997 is associated with the initiation of a compulsory Chinese-medium instruction policy, which wrongly assumes that local children all share the same mother tongue (Cantonese). Although various international human rights instruments, including UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, guarantee the principle of nondiscriminatory education, this investigation indicates that Hong Kong has a long way to go in addressing language as ‘a prohibited discriminatory ground’ in education, in managing ethno linguistic diversity against linguicism, and a means in realising equal citizenship rights. Copyright © 2018 CDRI- Cambodia Development Resource Institute.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - May 2018


Gao, F. (2018, May). Politics, power, and ethnic minority children’s rights in postcolonial Hong Kong. Paper presented at the 11th Biennial Comparative Education Society of Asia (CESA 2018): Education and Social Progress: Insights from Comparative Perspectives, Sokhalay Angkor Villa Resort, Siem Reap, Cambodia.


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