Meritocracy and Individualism: Negotiating Cross-Cultural Humanities Values in a Politicised Hong Kong Context

  • Michael O’SullivanEmail author
Part of the The Humanities in Asia book series (HIA, volume 2)


The humanities may have as many faces as there are nationalities (Shumway 1998). However, in recent years an educational debate has emerged in Hong Kong, one that has travelled to China and Taiwan, that is committed to speaking for, and elaborating, what one contributor in this collection calls an Asian humanities (Lee in Keynote speech for the eighth annual meeting of the Asian New Humanities Net (ANHN). The Chinese University, Hong Kong, 2010). This is not a new discipline by any means but the fact that there has been a new call for an Asian humanities at the Chinese University of Hong Kong suggests that what is being imagined is something quite different from such “Asian Humanities” courses that presently take place in such universities as Columbia University (de Bary in The Great civilized conversation: education for a world community. Columbia University Press, New York, p. 51, 2015). However, this new call for an Asian humanities has emerged in the Hong Kong academic context, a region whose world-class universities embody its cross-cultural humanities history. This chapter explores some of the key values that are negotiated on a daily basis in this academic community. The aim for such cross-cultural educational practices has always been to sustain and nurture what Wm. Theodore de Bary calls a “great civilized conversation” between multifaceted traditions, an aim that might seem difficult to maintain today when barbarism is so virulent and academic freedoms are being eroded (O’Sullivan in Academic barbarism, universities, and inequality. Palgrave MacMillan, London, 2016; Williams in Academic freedom in an age of conformity: confronting the fear of knowledge. Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2016). The chapter will begin by examining how different notions of meritocracy and individualism inform educational debates in contemporary Chinese contexts and it will then look at the politicisation of humanities courses in Hong Kong and examine student responses to an undergraduate course entitled “Literature and Politics” that I taught in Hong Kong in 2016.


Academic Freedom Chinese Student Filial Piety Asian Humanity Civic Education 
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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Chinese University of Hong KongHong KongHong Kong

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