Hong Kong Activists Hit Out at 'Brainwashing' in New School Study Materials

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Demosisto members display new 'patriotic' study materials at a press conference in Hong Kong, Aug. 31, 2017.
Demosisto members display new 'patriotic' study materials at a press conference in Hong Kong, Aug. 31, 2017.

Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong have accused their government of beginning a "brainwashing" process in the city's schools by sliding "patriotic" ideas about its legal system into school study materials.

Revised study materials will be used in Hong Kong's schools for the first time this month after mass protests led to the shelving of a more comprehensive "patriotic education" program favored by the ruling Chinese Communist Party for children in the former British colony.

The pan-democratic political party Demosisto, which was founded by leaders of the anti-patriotic education campaign and the 2014 pro-democracy movement, said its analysis of study packs on the city's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, had revealed considerable pro-Beijing bias.

The Basic Law is a compulsory topic under the banner of "liberal studies" in Hong Kong's schools, and studying it will require more hours than previously allocated from September.

Demosisto leader Issac Cheng accused the government of trying to smuggle in Beijing's favored notion of "patriotic education" via the back door.

The study pack quotes Beijing's 2014 policy paper on Hong Kong emphasizing that it gets the final say in the running of the city, in spite of promises of a "high degree of autonomy" made before the 1997 handover to Chinese rule.

"The mentions of the 70th anniversary of the War of Resistance Against Japan, the Belt and Road initiative, China's Olympic participation, all of these things in the study pack show a biased sense of identity," Cheng said.

"If forces students to accept these as major events in their country's history, and gives the impression that they must accept their identity as Chinese nationals," he said.

"The study pack directly quotes the policy white paper and its interpretations [of the Basic Law]. But these were very controversial, for example the view that there is no residual power held by Hong Kong [to govern itself]," Cheng said.

A strong reminder

The June 2014 white paper was a strong reminder from Beijing that it rules Hong Kong, amid growing calls for fully democratic elections that were later rejected by China's parliament, sparking the Occupy Central pro-democracy movement later that year.

Hong Kong was promised a "high degree of autonomy" under the terms of its 1997 return to Chinese rule, within the "one country, two systems" framework agreed between British and Chinese officials and enshrined in its mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

But the white paper from China's cabinet, the State Council, said such autonomy was still subject to the will of Beijing.

"The high degree of autonomy of Hong Kong is not full autonomy, nor is it decentralized power," the white paper said.

"It is the power to run local affairs as authorized by the central leadership," it said, adding: "There is no such thing as 'residual power'."

Cheng said the study materials make no reference to the huge public opposition to the five interpretations of the Basic Law issued by the National People's Congress to "settle" disputes in the city since the handover.

'Moral, historical points'

The tone of the new Hong Kong study materials appears to echo that of a history syllabus set by authorities across the internal border in mainland China, incorporating "moral" and "historical" points emphasized by the ruling party.

The revised materials highlight the "great contribution" of the Chinese Communist Party when fighting invading Japanese forces during World War II, and promotes iconic images from Communist Party mythology, including concepts like the "spirit of the Long March," the Five Heroes of Mt. Langya, and the founding of the People's Republic of China by Mao Zedong on Oct. 1, 1949.

Rousing patriotic music like "I love this country" and the Yellow River Concerto are also highlighted in the new study materials.

A teacher surnamed Zhu contacted by RFA said the new materials mark a form of "historical regression" for Chinese schools.

"Ever since [late supreme leader] Deng Xiaoping brought economic reforms, the generations that have grown up since then have at least had some inkling of global civilizations, and the impact on them of democracy and liberalism," Zhu said.

"Now, they want us to teach a syllabus that is effectively sending us backwards ... Everyone is criticizing this regressive brainwashing, which now begins when they are babies," she said.

Reported by Lam Kwok-lap for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.





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