In the Eyes of the Culturati
Mr. Ng Hong-man is a devoted experienced educator. He joined Pei Qiao Secondary School as teacher fifty years ago and is now the Chairman of the school's Board of Governors; throughout the years he has devoted all his efforts to education in Hong Kong. He has also participated actively in politics and was awarded the Grand Bauhinia Medal for his contribution to the society. Education has a lot to do with the society's development. Mr. Ng's continuous contribution to both fields has earned our deepest respect.
"The greatest rewards for my education work are the close relationships established with and respect gained from my students while the greatest comfort for an educator is the feeling of spiritual richness of wealth developed."
From mother tongue
Education policy, especially the use of mother tongue as the teaching language, has caused concern recently. As an experienced educator, Ng has a scholarly view. He analyzes it according to its historical development: "The issue of using mother tongue as the teaching language has been discussed in Hong Kong for twenty years. Form the point of view of an education professional, primary and secondary schools are the places to learn basic knowledge. The use of mother tongue can help students to understand better and encourage them to ask questions. The main objective of education is to inspire. Using mother tongue is much more efficient. This is recognized worldwide.
"Suggestions of mother tongue education have been raised in Hong Kong form time to time for more than ten years. But it was countered by pragmatic arguments that emphasized English as a prequisite to a good career path. Hong Kong as an international city relies on English as the medium to communicate with the outside world. The British also had motives to give English a higher status to strengthen their colonial rule."
Such reasons has contributed to the unique situation in Hong Kong - Educators advocate for mother tongue teaching while the society under colonial influence regard English as superior; therefore, the debate over the teaching medium is still continuous with the return of Hong Kong to China we have reached the turning point. "Hong Kong is now part of China. It is unreasonable to use English as the main medium in fundamental education. Besides, this is a nationality and racial consciousness issue. For our youth to have poor Chinese and a lack of understanding of Chinese culture under the territory of China is detrimental to the national development. Therefore, the government has determined to implement mother tongue teaching. This is correct in principle, but its implementation has been problematic."
What are the problems? "To introduce mother tongue teaching we must first look into both the historical background and the current situation. Nowadays parents still regard English as superior notwithstanding our return to China. Most of our teachers have undergone English education and are only used to special terms in English, in particular for science subjects. To switch to Chinese teaching overnight will present a problem. It is too hasty to introduce Chinese teaching before we have sufficient support."
He also points out the weakness of the system in selecting certain schools to remain in English teaching. "The rationale is that poorer students have difficulties in using both languages in learning. In the past we had a lot of students who quitted school because they had difficulties in switching to English in learning after entering secondary school. Mother tongue teaching can solve their problem. For better students who can master both languages, they are admitted into the 100 English teaching schools selected by the government. This creates the problem in that public regards English teaching schools as kings and queens; Parents lose face if their children fail to be admitted into English schools."
Ng has suggested certain solutions to the ground, these include allocating more resources to mother tongue teaching schools to improve their students' English language capacity with a view to achieve equal status of both languages; another proposal is to set up trial scheme in gradually increasing the use of mother tongue in teaching. Two to three government schools can be designated to implement the trial scheme and demonstrate to the society how successful they can be.
Ng sees the issue in an economic point of view. "If parents prefer English schools they can choose those expensive international schools. Chinese schools are cheaper and will have demands. This is in line with free market economy."
Being an educator with numerous students over the years, Ng also shares the concern for the decline in the level of knowledge and ethnics of the students. "It is true that the quality of students has declined. More students are promoted to higher education as we have more school places. This means poorer students can have the chance to continue their education. The quality thus has inevitably declined, this is the price for mass education. Our education system emphasizes on memorizing than independent thinking."
Not only students, the society in general has low ethical values. "Hong Kong people have low regard to politeness. This is reflected in our daily life. Drivers race their way through the roads without consideration and don't even stop to help those with their cars broken down on the road. There is no spirit of mutual helps." Ng agrees Hong Kong has a strong speculative culture. Some people earn a lot of money by short cuts rather than through hard efforts. The society emphasizes money and wealth. Adults has set up very bad examples for the youths, Ng wants to see changes and co-operation in all sectors and to reshape the society's culture by praising good behaviors and good examples. Reform in education is one of the inevitable elements.
"The government's approach to education has been passive and aim only at problem-solving. It does not proactively carry out civic education. Schools should equally emphasize personal integrity. The first step is to cut school curriculums and relieve students' pressures on doing homework and preparing for examinations. Students should be given more time to participate in extra-curricular activities and develop comprehensively. Western education emphasizes openness and independent thinking. Eastern education emphasizes self-discipline and mechanical memorizing. The most ideal way is to get the best out of both systems.'
Originally a chemical engineering student in the Mainland, he did not plan to be a teacher at first; yet once he joined the education field it drove him on and before he realized it was already 50 years. He regards educating the next generation as a very meaningful job. Some see education as a demanding job with little rewards. He sees it differently. "I am quite a smart person. If I chose to do business, I might be a rich and famous person by now. But I regard myself as very rich in spiritual wealth. I have over tens of thousands students. Their respect and care towards me is priceless. Our deep relationship is my greatest reward." A pragmatic person will not understand the joy of an educator. Only for people like Ng who has given out his wholehearted effort can understand the meaning behind it and get tremendous satisfaction out of it.
The Start of the Silk Road
The Silk Road starts at Xian, threads through Hexi Corridor, enters the Western territory and links up the Middle Asia and Europe. The first part of the Silk Road is an easy start that lures you into the latter journey of deserts and mountains. It runs through the three important towns of Xian, Tianshui and Lanzhou; before you, are sights of prosperity, combining with picturesque scenery too beautiful to miss.
Xian - where the capital of twelve dynasties lies
Xian is a well-known city of ancient history and culture. Not only is it the starting point of the Silk Road, but it has also been the capital of twelve dynasties. For 1,100 years since the eleventh century BC, it has been the capital of the dynasties of Zhou, Qin, Western Han, Xin, Western Jin, the first Zhao, the first Qin, the latter Qin, Western Wei, Northern Zhou, Sui and Tang. It is not an exaggeration to call it the cradle of eastern culture.
The name Xian originated form the Ming Dynasty but the city had its prosperity well before that. It was called Fenghao in Western Zhou, Xianyang in Qin and Changan in Western Han and Tang. Nowadays Xian is a modern city with six million people where cultural heritages of different periods are still well preserved.
Where East meets West
Tang saw the height of development of the ancient Chinese society. Changan was its centre of politics, economics and culture. Traffic converged; Rich and powerful people gathered. It had over a million population. It had a transport network linking up places all over, with water transport via Weishui and the Yellow River to cities along Changjiang. It once had diplomatic relations with hundreds of countries and regions. Silk Road was the important link between China and the West. Changan being the starting point of Silk Road was the market for Western and Eastern goods. Merchants form Eastern Rome, Dasi (Arabian Peninsula), India and Prussia (now Iran) brought with them glass, medicinal herbs, rhinoceros horn, ivory and spice to exchange for silk, tea leaves, porcelain and golden and silver utensils.
Cultural and religious development came with trade. The openness of the city attracted over ten thousands foreigners and minorities to settle there, including missionaries, priests, students, merchants, musicians and dancers. There were temples of Buddhism, Nestorianism and other religions.
Changan's urban planning and architecture, including flat layouts, lanes and market structures and palace, was the model of Chinese cities in the middle ages. It also influenced urban planning in neighboring countries, and was a landmark in man's history.
Qin Terracotta warriors and horses were found in the northern foot of Lishan in Xian. It was renowned as the eighth world wonder. Qin clay figures of warriors and horses were not recorded in history. It was in 1974 when they were found and the news immediately shattered the whole world. There were three tunnels housing eight thousands clay warriors and horses. They looked real and lively. There were also several tens of thousands of shining copper weapons. The site had the imposing manner of the military strength of Qin when it united China two thousand years ago. These relics provided valuable information on studying the history, politics, military, economics, culture, art and science of Qin.
Qin Shihuang Museum of Terracotta warriors and horses also have another rarity - large painted copper carts and horses, each made of 3,640 pieces of units. From them you can peep into the ancient Chinese emperor's carriage and cart system.
Shaannxi Provincial Museum is built with architectural style of ancient palace and courtyards. It houses abundant relics and presents the culture of Shaanxi during the Zhou, Qin, Han and Tang dynasties. The Forest of Steles inside the Museum is named for its uncountable steles. It has the greatest number of steles in China and is called "the Steles Library" and "Treasure Trove of Calligraphy".
The Forest of Steles was built in Northern Song. At first it housed some steles of Emperor Tang Xuanzong and Tang Wenzong. Later the Forest also collected calligraphy of famous calligraphers in Han, Jin, Sui and Tang dynasties. After more than a thousand years, the Forest now has seven exhibition galleries and collected more than 2,300 steles. It is one of the most important preserved relics in China.
From Xian via Weishui, 1,000 miles to the west is Tianshui. This was where Xuanzhuang had his first stop after leaving Changan for the West. Tianshui has a strategic location. To the east is Guangzhong Plain. To the south is the "The Kingdom of heaven" Bashu. To the north is Longxi Plateau. To the west is the road to the Yellow River and Hexi Corridor. It had always been the target for scramble.
Tianshui was named by Han Wudi. Legend had it that it was where the Heaven water flew. Now there is no sign of lake but abundant spring water, including Mapao Quan, Guan Quan, Long Guan, Yong Guan and Jie Guan which supply good quality natural spring water.
Maiji Shan Caves
Tianshui is not only picturesque. It was the birthplace of ancient Chinese culture spotted with archaeological sites. If Dunhuang Mogao Caves is the palace of murals, Tianshui Maiji Shan Caves must be the museum of statutes. It has over 7,800 stone and clay statutes ranging from the Sixteen dynasties to Western Qin, Sui, Tang and Song. All are representative works of the time. Maiji Shan is surrounded by green hills with streams of fog and clouds, beautiful in every season. It also lies at the edge of Qin Ling natural forest and breeds wild animals like panthers and bears.
Lanzhou - Crossing of the Yellow River in order to travel to the West
Lanzhou is one of the three important ferry crossing points of the Yellow River. It was dangerous to cross the rushing water. 17 bridges are now built. Lanzhou is sheltered by the Gaolan Shan and Baita Shan from the north and south. The Yellow River runs through it to the east. It is warm in winter and cool in summer, thus the ideal city for fruits. Bailan melon is its famous produce. It is pale green and sweet, very tasty.
Baita Shan gets its name from the Baita at its peak. Baita is a tower built in the Yuan dynasty. It houses the bodies of priests from Tibet. It has seven layers of traditional Chinese brims at the top and early Indian style bowl shaped structures at the bottom, a product of Indian Buddhist architecture merging with Chinese architecture.
Binglingsi Thousand Buddha Caves
Gansu province has three large caves. Mogao Caves is in the west, Maiji Shan in the east and Bingling Caves in the middle. Bingling in Tibet means "a hundred thousand Buddhas". The Caves were excavated in Western Qin during the sixteen dynasties. There are 694 stone Buddhas, 82 clay Buddhas and 900 square meters of murals. Most of the Buddhas wore no tops and was clearly affected by Indian Buddhist art.
Liyuanhao - the Western Xia Emperor well versed in both literary and martial arts
Xiajiangzong Liyuanhao liked martial art and law since young. He spoke both Han and Tibet languages, and was ambitious and astute. After he succeeded the throne in 1032, he conquered Turpan and Huigu and seized Hexi Corridor and Duogua (now Anxi in Gansu), Sha (now Dunhuang) and Su (now Jiuquan), building up the empire of Western Xia. Liyuanhao introduced a lot of reforms and new measures, including building cities, establishing systems of the government and soldiers, introducing rites and protocol, creating Western Xia characters and languages, translating Han classics and Buddhist scripts. Such measures had contributed greatly to the development of Western Xia society and cultural exchange between ethnics.
In 1038, Li declared to establish the Western Xia Kingdom and Western Xia under his rule became one of the three important Kingdoms of the time, as strong as the empires of Song and Liao. Li's great achievements in both politics and military strength made him a well-known figure in history.