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Hong Kong erases banned political groups from school teaching materials

Hong Kong Classroom (Creative Commons Hong Kong/Flickr)
August 21, 2020

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

Educational publishers in Hong Kong have begun erasing references to banned political groups and inserting positive references to the ruling Chinese Communist Party, as authorities there begin rolling out “patriotic education” in the city’s schools.

Textbook publishers said they were deleting references to the now-dissolved pro-democracy political groups Demosisto and Hong Kong Indigenous, while a reference to the separation of powers typical of democratic societies had been erased from Liberal Studies teaching materials.

The postponement of Legislative Council (LegCo) elections for one year, and the imposition of several decrees on Hong Kong by Beijing, show that Beijing is already moving towards an executive-led government in Hong Kong.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party has already outlawed any talk of the separation of powers in mainland China.

Liberal Studies, a compulsory subject required for college entrance in Hong Kong, has been blamed by Beijing and the Hong Kong authorities for fueling a string of mass protests by young people in recent years, including movements against Beijing’s “patriotic education” program and for fully democratic elections in the city.

Former Liberal Studies teacher Yeung Chi-chun, who was blinded in his right eye when riot police moved against protesters outside government headquarters on June 12, 2019, said the authorities are ignoring the root causes of protests in recent years.

“Civil disobedience has always been discussed as part of Liberal Studies, but now they seem to be avoiding it, because they are afraid that something bad will happen if they talk about it, so they don’t talk about it,” Yeung told RFA.

“I don’t think they understand the root of the problem, why young people have participated in demonstrations for so many years: it’s because the government has really done a poor job,” he said.

Turning point for education

The move comes after chief executive Carrie Lam said that the imposition by Beijing of a draconian national security law for Hong Kong was a “turning point” for education in the city.

The education department sent out a memo to schools in July, shortly after the law banning subversion, sedition, separatism, and terrorism took effect, warning them to strengthen the “national identity” and work within the ethos of the national security law.

Hong Kong security secretary John Lee has also warned of a crackdown in the city’s schools, referring to some teachers as “bad apples” who had engaged in “unprofessional conduct” by influencing their students in a way likely to encourage their opposition to the authorities.

Some 26 teachers have been sanctioned for “misconduct” since the anti-extradition movement escalated in June 2019, broadening into mass demands for official accountability and full democracy, as well as a cry of protest over ever-diminishing freedoms.

Hong Kong police have said that 3,725 of the 9,216 people arrested during the protests were students, around 45 percent of whom were still in secondary education.

Article 10 of the new law requires the Hong Kong government to “promote national security education in schools and universities.”

Catholic Diocese urges compliance

The Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong has asked its schools to nurture their students’ sense of national identity, the Apple Daily newspaper reported.

“Starting from the new academic year in September, Catholic schools should guide their teachers and staff members to help students better understand the national security law and national anthem law,” it quoted the diocese as saying in a letter to schools.

It urged schools to implement policies to prevent the “politicization of campuses,” adding that schools should respond positively to suggestions made by the Education Bureau, and should write to parents on issues of particular concern, the report said.

China has already set up a “national security education center” for young people from Hong Kong and Macau across the border in Shenzhen, state media said in a recent report.

The center “aims to help Hong Kong and Macau young people enhance their constitutional and national awareness through education,” the Global Times reported.

“Fifteen minutes from Hong Kong by high-speed train, Shenzhen is a window to learning more about the Chinese mainland for many Hong Kong youths, who visit the city to see the great development and achievements made by the motherland,” the paper, which has close ties to official Communist Party paper the People’s Daily, said.

Around 100 teachers, staff arrested

Around 100 staff members from primary schools and kindergartens have been arrested since protests began last year, it said, citing education secretary Kevin Yeung.

The Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said on Wednesday that the government is “using the new law to curtail peaceful speech and protests and arrest critics,” citing the arrest earlier this month of media mogul Jimmy Lai and a raid on his Apple Daily newspaper.

“The events of the past week clearly show the law’s potential for abuse in establishing a climate of fear and self-censorship and the threat it poses to rule of law and fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong,” RSF said in a statement co-signed by other non-government groups including Freedom House and Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“The national security law provides for criminal penalties of up to life imprisonment for the broadly-defined crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign powers,” the group said.