Social Origins of Secondary Mathematics knowledge in hong Kong and Macau
Tang Kwok Chun
School of Education and Languages
The Open University of Hong Kong



This paper is a study of the influences on the adoption traditional mathematics textbooks in Hong Kong and Macau before the Second World War. By tracing the origin of the textbooks in these two places, different socio-political influences on textbook adoption can be illuminated. European influences have been examined first due to their colonial status. USA influence via Chinese Kuomintang was then investigated. In sum, this study is a historical account for the infiltration of Western mathematics textbooks in Hong Kong and Macau.


Hong Kong is situated just within the northern tropics of South China. The island of Hong Kong was formally ceded to the British in 1842. The Kowloon Peninsula was ceded in 1860, and finally, the New Territories were leased in 1898. In 1984 the Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed, and the British and Chinese governments agreed that Hong Kong would revert to China in 1997. Hong Kong is now a Special Administrative Region of China,

Macau is situated on the western bank of the estuary of the Pearl River at the southern tip of China close to Hong Kong. Macau takes 1557 as the year of its foundation. At this time, after several unsuccessful attempts dating back to 1513, Portuguese traders finally secured from the Chinese authorities rights of settlement from the Chinese authorities. Although the Portuguese were primarily interested in Macau for economic reasons, the territory also played a major religious and cultural role (Cremer 1991). After the mid-seventeenth century, the glory of Macau faded due to the decline of Portugal's power. In April 1987, the Sino-Portuguese Joint Declaration was signed and the Portuguese and Chinese governments agreed that Macau would revert to China in 1999. Like Hong Kong, Macau is expected to remain a Special Administrative Region for at least 50 years after the transition.

In order to understand the stability and change of school mathematics knowledge, some researchers have adopted a world system perspective by emphasizing on the worldwide forces dominating by Western culture (Meyer et al. 1992), whereas some others have focused on the local shaping forces in the developed countries (Young 1977; Hextall and Sarup 1977; Cooper 1985a;Cooper 1985b; Moon 1986; Stanic 1987a; Stanic 1987b). This paper is a study on the social origins of secondary mathematics knowledge in Hong Kong and Macau. Different source of Western influences were identified and no comparably significant local shaping force was found before the Second World War.

The origins of Traditional Mathematics textbooks

Before the early 1960s, the mathematics curricula in Hong Kong and Macau were textbook-driven. It was a common practice to have separate textbooks and even separate teachers on arithmetic, geometry, algebra, trigonometry, co-ordinate geometry and calculus. The theoretical root of this approach was established more than 300 years ago and its traditional organisation of mathematical content was featured by the division of the subject into four main branches: arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and analysis, with each considered as a closed and separate field of investigation (Fehr 1970, p.200).

Popular traditional mathematics textbooks adopted by the Chinese-medium schools in both places were usually Chinese translation of USA textbooks of the 1910s (Hong Kong 1955a; Ngai et al. 1987). The popular algebra textbook was College Algebra written by Fine. The popular geometry textbooks were Plane Geometry, Advanced Plane Geometry and Solid Geometry written by Schultze, Sevenoak and Schuyler. Furthermore, Plane Trigonometry written by Granville and New Analytical Geometry written by Smith, Gale and Neelley were also widely adopted. All these textbooks were very famous and popular among teachers in China in the 1920s (Ngai et al. 1987).

Among the English-medium schools, UK texbooks were adopted. For instance, pre-War textbooks such as Essentials of School Arithmetic and Essentials of School Algebra written by Mayne, A New Geometry for Schools written by Durell, Elementary Trigonometry written by Durell and Wright, and Elementary Calculus written by Bowman were included in the approved textbook list (Hong Kong 1955b; Lai 1968) and they might be widely adopted by the English-medium schools in both places since the 1930s. Furthermore, it was worthmentioned that there were a few Portuguese-medium school in Macau which were actually Portugal schools operated in this enclave in Southeast Asia. Portugal traditional textbooks were adopted in these schools.

Finding UK textbooks in the English-medium schools and Portugal textbooks in the Portuguese-medium schools was not surprising due to the influence of colonism. But the adoption of Chinese translation of the USA texbooks by the Chinese-medium schools in both places deserves further examination.

After the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty and the establishment of the Republic of China in 1911, a new education system adapted from the Japanese and German system was introduced. In 1922, this system was replaced by a new 6+3+3 system which was adapted from USA. Origin English version of the abovementioned USA textbooks were then adopted by some prestigious schools in Beijing, for instance, the secondary section of Beijing Normal University. In the 1930s and 1940s, numerous translated versions were published and they were very popular among secondary schools in Republic of China (Ngai et al. 1987).

In 1928, shortly after the establishment of the Nanjing government in China, the Overseas Chinese Education Committee was established under the Ministry of Education. Regulations were issued, and overseas Chinese schools were asked to register themselves with Overseas Chinese Education Bureau. Details of curriculum adopted and list of textbooks used should be submitted in the registration process (Cheng 1949; Chan 1992). The main purpose was to control the structure and curriculum of overseas Chinese schools in order to exclude the Communist's influence. The strategic consideration behind such policy might best be explicated by Cheng's (1949) examination of the Hong Kong case.

"Since 1928, the Chinese Government had been trying to control the overseas Chinese schools through its consuls and Kuomintang agents abroad. As there were no Chinese Consuls in Hong Kong and Kuomingtang activities were banned, the attempt of the Chinese Government to influence the Chinese colony must be by very subtle ways....

One reason why most of the bigger schools had to register themselves with the Overseas Chinese Affairs Committee was that a growing number of Hong Kong students were going back to China for higher studies, and if these schools did not register themselves with the Chinese authorities, their students or graduates would not, as a rule, be recognized in China and therefore could not join any Chinese schools or universities. As registration with the Chinese authorities carried with it an obligation to observe, whether openly or secretly, certain regulations laid down, it was clear that the Chinese authorities had been having an indirect control or influences over a number of the bigger schools" (quoted in Wong Leung 1969, p.53).

The above strategy was found to be quite successful. In 1928, some schools in Hong Kong started to borrow the American 6+3+3 system, like those Chinese-middle schools in China (Sweeting 1990). Furthermore, "[i]n the early 1930s, an increasing number of schools were able to operate with branches on both sides of the border and registered with both governments. In Hong Kong, such schools followed the curriculum prescribed by the Nanjing government, used textboks published in China, mostly at Shanghai, and presented their senior middle graduates for university entrance examinations in China. They engaged teachers trained either in China or in Hong Kong. The colonial government and missionary schools also generally used the Nanjing syllabi and the Shanghai textbooks for the Chinese culture subjects, although they probably followed them less closely. For other subjects, they used textbooks from England or from Shanghai. They also employed teachers educated either in Hong Kong or in China. Hong Kong never developed an autochthonous school system before World War II and remained very much a periphery to its dual centers" (Luk 1991, p.661). In 1929, in order to counteract the Kuomintang influences, a committee was appointed in Hong Kong to draw up a syllabus for private schools to follow. But the reaction of the Hong Kong government was not successful. In early 1930s, the vernacular schools had always tried, "as far as the Education Department allowed, to follow the curriculum of the schools in China, using the same textbooks, and having the same subjects" (Wong Leung 1969, p.53).

In 1931, the Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission was established in Nanjing. It signified the need of the Nanjing-based government for a more comprehensive and effective policy towards the overseas Chinese because their support was found to be more and more necessary with the rise of the Japanese militarism and their attack from the north. A survey was conducted in 1935 by the Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission to estimate the number of overseas Chinese schools throughout the entire world. About 550 overseas Chinese schools, primary or secondary, were found in Hong Kong and Macau (Chan 1992, p.256). In 1938, when Guangzhou was taken by Japan, the number of schools in Hong Kong and Macau increased drastically. They were schools moved from the north or from Guangzhou for refuge. The teachers and students of these schools carried with them their curricula and textbooks which had already been adopted by some of the schools in Hong Kong and Macau in the early 1930s (Kong 1995, p.5). In short, the above historical account explained the common adoption of USA textbooks by the Chinese-medium schools in both places before the early 1960s.


China has its glorious past in Mathematics and Astronomy. When Matteo Ricci came to Macau in 1582, Western and Chinese Mathematics and Science was very different from each other. Before Matteo Ricci was permitted to meet the Chinese Emperor in 1600, he stayed in Macau to study Chinese Classics. Being a mathematician and astronomer, he also wrote and translated many books about religion and science into Chinese including Treatise on the Celestial Bodies, Work on Trigonometry and Treatise on Geometry, and Elements of Geometry of Euclides. In the early twentieth century, three hundred years after Ricci’s stay in Macau, Western Education System and Western Mathematics had started to infiltrate into the educational institutions in Hong Kong and Macau, partly due to colonization, and partly due to socio-political influence from their motherland. How Chinese people build up their own identity in Mathematics education is and will still be a big and important question.



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