This paper explores the differential status and validity accorded to subjects in Hong Kong secondary schools and analyses the structures and processes which maintain the nature of school knowledge. It initially focuses on the central role played by the state and subsequently by the market in which schools compete for pupils. It is argued that the curriculum continues to manifest those characteristics which emerged in the early postwar period, which was characterized by direct state control. The outcome is a curriculum which contains those features associated with: a collection code; closed systems; disciplinary modes of conceptualizing knowledge; and a focus on public knowledge, despite the government's attempts, over the last two decades, to promote a curriculum which displays the opposite features. Copyright © 1997 Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business.