Patriotic Education, Shifting 'Red Lines' Drive Families Away From Hong Kong

Twenty-four years after the city's handover, one year after a national security law took effect, the lines just keep forming in the airport departures hall.
Patriotic Education, Shifting 'Red Lines' Drive Families Away From Hong Kong Hong Kong residents departing the city wave goodbye to family and friends in a file photo.

Twenty-four years after the city was handed back to the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), Hongkongers are once more lining up in droves to leave, the sounds of farewells echoing through the departures hall at the international airport, in stark contrast with the hushed and empty arrivals floor.

The imposition of a draconian national security law on the city from 11.00 p.m. on June 30, 2020 ushered in an ever-widening crackdown on all forms of dissent and political opposition that has seen dozens of former lawmakers arrested for "subversion" for taking part in a democratic primary, and the closure of the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper last week.

Media organizations have seen a number of arrests of prominent columnists, popular political and cultural programs are being axed, and online content is being deleted to protect the safety of the staff who produced it.

A Hong Kong resident surnamed Chan said he had recently left Hong Kong with his wife and young children, to settle in the U.K.

"As the generation that lived through Hong Kong under British rule and also in the Special Administrative Region [under Chinese rule], we didn't have high expectations," Chan told RFA. "We just didn't want to see the so-called boundaries [of acceptable behavior] constantly shifting."

"We would actually think about going back if everyone enjoyed fundamental human rights and freedoms," Chan said.

But Chan isn't holding his breath.

"Look at [the Tiananmen massacre of] June 4, 1989. Three decades later, they are still trying to erase that piece of history, and won't admit to [wrongdoing]," he said.

"Is it possible for Hong Kong to go back to the way it was 10 years ago?" he said. "I'm not very optimistic."

Many of those leaving for good on Tuesday were young families with school-age children, encouraged by changes to immigration rules in the U.K., Canada, and Australia, and spurred by a mandatory program of "national security education" in Hong Kong's schools, as well as the axing of Liberal Studies from school curriculums.

Elderly relatives wept as entire nuclear families waved their last goodbye, before disappearing through the immigration gate, en route for a new life somewhere else.

Targeting the young

Mandatory education has also been used to target juvenile offenders who ended up in the prison system for taking part in the 2019 protest movement against the erosion of Hong Kong's promised freedoms.

"Young people who took part in the protest movement were given prison sentences in order to provide them with education," Chung Kim-wah, deputy chief executive of the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute (HKPORI), told RFA.

"Now they are using this to teach them so-called patriotic education."

"This all happens in the confinement of the prison environment without their parents' knowledge, and the parties involved have no choice in the matter, he said. "It's pretty similar to the re-education and brainwashing camps; they are having ideological indoctrination forced on them."

Chung said the new emphasis on patriotic education in schools and juvenile correctional facilities alike would have a negative effect on the ability of future generations of Hongkongers to think critically.

'Human rights emergency'

London-based rights group Amnesty International said on Tuesday that the national security law had sparked a "human rights emergency" in Hong Kong.

"In one year, the National Security Law has put Hong Kong on a rapid path to becoming a police state and created a human rights emergency for the people living there," the group's Asia-Pacific regional director Yamini Mishra said in a statement.

"From politics to culture, education to media, the law has infected every part of Hong Kong society and fomented a climate of fear that forces residents to think twice about what they say, what they tweet and how they live their lives," Mishra said.

The group said the Hong Kong authorities have repeatedly used "national security" as a pretext to justify censorship, harassment, arrests, and prosecutions, while overriding previous human rights protections.

It said people charged under the law are effectively presumed guilty rather than innocent, meaning they are usually denied bail.

After his mandatory 10 days' self-isolation on arriving in the U.K., Chan's first act was to take part in a protest rally commemorating a June 12, 2019 rally against plans to allow extradition to mainland China, at which Hong Kong's police force launched an onslaught of tear-gas, batons, and pepper spray on unarmed protesters.

His next protest was to mourn the loss of the Apple Daily.

"There hasn't been the freedom to hold a demonstration or rally in Hong Kong for the past six months, the past year even," Chan said. "Why can I only speak out on behalf of my birthplace in a foreign country?"

Chan, who once worked in healthcare, said he had already started limiting what he posted online after the national security law took effect.

"The boundaries were getting closer and closer with the introduction of the national security law, to the extent that public organizations were restricting their online speech ... naturally there were concerns," he said.

Looking back from far away, Chan said the city where he has lived his whole life has changed beyond recognition.

"The rule of law that everyone relied on, the presumption of innocence; these most basic principles have been erased under the national security law," he said. "It feels as if our entire system of values has collapsed."

Reported by Lu Xi and Emily Chan for RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese Services. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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