No Stamp of Approval

Jun 10, 2009
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Perhaps one of the most bizarre examples of how confused “loyalty” is for the Chinese diaspora can be demonstrated by the work of a Chinese Canadian businessman, Michael Lo. A Hong Kong immigrant, Lo invested heavily in his private education empire in Vancouver, where he used to have a college and a university.

He befriended politicians. He was able to get a Chinese Canadian member of parliament to connect him to the right people at renowned education institutes and government units in China.

He advised the BC premier on “Chinese community issues”. And, he was chair of the quality assurance section of a government-run private education regulatory body, which, ironically, prosecuted his education empire for violating provincial laws and closed down his college and university.

The China wing of Lo’s private education empire includes two high schools in China – the Grand Canadian Academy in Nanjing and Maodun BC High School in Tongxiang, Zhejiang. Both are certified by BC’s ministry of education, under stringent regulations and inspection every year. Students who have completed the curriculum are granted the “Dogwood Diploma” (BC certificate of high school graduation), which is recognized by most North American colleges and universities.

At the centre of the controversy is that the two schools Lo operates in China had asked their BC-certified teachers not to discuss “sensitive political issues” in class, including the Tiananmen Square massacre (picture), Taiwan, Tibet, Falun Gong, Japan, China’s democracy, human rights and Chinese leaders.

The guidelines were included in the schools’ 2006 handbook, which was leaked to The Vancouver Sun. The following are some quotes from the handbook:

“When dealing with such [human rights] topics, talk about other countries and avoid China. The Chinese government is happy if we use the US as an example and are critical about its wrongdoings in human rights.

“Totally avoid this [Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989] issue. If asked about it, “I don’t know” is the safest answer.

“Taiwan should be referred to as a region of China, not a separate country. Tibet and the Dalai Lama should never be mentioned.”

Reason? The answer lies in between the lines in the handbook. It said the increase in foreign high schools in China has prompted the Chinese government to apply “more strict ideological scrutiny over the textbooks and instructions in these schools.”

To a businessman like Michael Lo, the risk of attracting “more scrutiny” from the Chinese government was pointless. Self-censorship was thus applied.

The practice drew negative criticism in Canada, where the provincial opposition party condemned the schools for failing to apply “BC standards” to BC-curriculum schools, taught by BC-certified teachers.

The minister of education, however, said the government’s job was to ensure BC curriculum was taught by certified BC teachers and Lo’s schools were doing exactly that. The minister said that the topics mentioned in the handbook were not among the prescribed learning outcomes for students.

Michael Lo’s rise to a private education tsar began in 1989 when he established Kingston College. It evolved into Kingston Education Group, comprising Lansbridge University of British Columbia, Lansbridge University of New Brunswick, Kingston College in BC and Ontario, and Kingston High Schools in BC, Ontario, China and India. The two China schools were operated under the Kingston banner and were certified by BC’s ministry of education to teach BC curriculum to students in China and to grant the BC graduation diploma.

It is not known how he got two of the nine licenses the BC government has issued for China.