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  • In Search of an Identity: The Politics of History as a School Subject in Hong Kong, 1960s–2005
  • Gay Garland Reed (bio)
Edward Vickers . In Search of an Identity: The Politics of History as a School Subject in Hong Kong, 1960s–2005. Foreword by Andy Green. Hong Kong: Comparative Education Research Centre, The University of Hong Kong, 2006. 352 pp. Paperback $32.00, Isbn 962–8093–38–X.

Edward Vickers writes with wit and insight about the particularities and peculiarities of the history curriculum in Hong Kong. In the preface, he positions himself as an initial outsider to the educational system. However, his English roots and sensibilities help to bring the paradoxes and contradictions in the intentions and content of the curriculum into focus. Over time as a "history" teacher in the system, he makes sense of these perplexities in an attempt to unravel the mysteries that are part of teaching this politically charged subject in secondary schools in Hong Kong. Simply stated, he asks how the Hong Kong history curriculum came to be as it is and why. In approaching this seemingly simple pair of questions, he guides us through a labyrinth of political and social agendas. Like other scholars who have explored curricula in other settings, Vickers exposes the tensions and struggles among various constituencies and stakeholders. These tensions and struggles are brought to light through interviews with key individuals who were associated with the curriculum as policymakers, designers, government officials, lecturers, teachers, and historians. Their input informs his study in important and useful ways.

Vickers does not treat the Hong Kong history curriculum in isolation. Rather, he considers it in its larger historical, social, political, and cultural contexts. He is concerned about the uniqueness of Hong Kong's history and worries that the story is not fully told or is told in a way that ignores the experience of the people who lived that history. He argues that the special characteristics and contributions of this unique setting are glossed over and underrepresented in the larger Mother China narrative. He underscores this point in the afterword, where he discusses the representation of Hong Kong in textbooks used by children in other parts of China and notes that "when . . . those students open their history textbooks, they find Hong Kong performing the same bit-part in a grand state-centered narrative" (p. 256). Clearly, Vickers cares a great deal about Hong Kong and wants its history to be given serious consideration both inside and outside its borders. At the same time, he sees the potential for history to be the place in the curriculum where intellectual critique and critical thinking could emerge, if the conditions permitted.

The first three chapters of Vickers' book set the historical, cultural, political, and educational context for his study. To foreground his discussion of the curriculum and argue its importance in relation to identity formation, Vickers carefully delineates his conceptual framework. It is significant that he initiates his study [End Page 576] by eschewing fixed notions of culture and ethnicity and uses the work of authors who critique the ways in which we tend to reify and essentialize identities and differences. This approach to the subject matter makes his task all the more complex. However, it is precisely the complexity and multidimensionality of his study that makes it so satisfying for this reader.

Chapters 4–7 look at the evolution and changes in the curriculum over time, linking these to other aspects of the educational system and the politics of change. Chapter 4 explores the curriculum from the 1960s to 1982; chapter 5 looks at the period from 1982 to 1989; chapter 6 focuses on the period of uncertainty that occurred after Tiananmen and before the turnover (1989–1997); and chapter 7 treats the curricular revisions that occurred from 1997 to 2002.

Along the way, Vickers helps to illuminate the tensions that exist in planning, writing, and teaching curriculum. Among the many issues that he explores are political correctness, the relationship with civic education, balancing the interests and perspectives of multiple stakeholders, and language, both in terms of the language of instruction and the carefully crafted language of the curriculum itself. He shows...