Hong Kong schools are to teach children that the city was never a British colony, after state textbooks for a course originally designed to teach critical thinking were revised to reflect Beijing’s version of history.
All references to the British ruling Hong Kong have been scrubbed from new teaching materials on the basis that China had never recognised the 19th-century “unequal treaties” that ceded control of the territory, according to the South China Morning Post.
The textbooks for the rejigged Citizenship and Social Development subject instead refer to an obscure 1972 UN resolution that removed Hong Kong and Macau from the body’s list of Non-Self-Governing Territories at China’s demand.
Britain took Hong Kong Island during the First Opium War and in 1898 signed a treaty that gave it control over the wider area for 99 years.
That agreement ended on July 1, 1997, an anniversary that is marked annually in the city and this year may be attended by Xi Jinping, the Chinese president. He has been overseeing a crackdown on basic freedoms in the city and broad censorship of any dissent.
The textbooks also parrot Beijing’s justification for the sweeping National Security Law imposed in 2020, which criminalised almost any criticism of the state following mass pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019.
The legislation was necessary to counter unrest, according to the new material. One textbook mentions “national security” more than 400 times over 121 pages.
Another book repeats a conspiracy theory that opposition and separatist groups had asked foreign forces to interfere in Hong Kong’s affairs.
The changes to the textbooks are part of a broader overhaul of the old Liberal Studies subject, which has this year been replaced by Citizenship and Social Development.
Liberal Studies was introduced in 2009 to encourage critical thinking but came under fire from authorities for allegedly encouraging the 2019 protests.
Its textbooks were not previously vetted by the education authorities, with some even containing references to the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown – another topic now all but banned in schools. Chinese state tabloid Global Times described the result as “chaos”.
The paper said the new textbooks and syllabus issued by the Hong Kong Education Bureau mean teachers “will no longer be able to convey their wrong and poisonous political views to students”.
Beijing believes that admitting Hong Kong was ever a colony could open the door to it breaking away from China because a UN declaration in 1960 affirmed the rights for colonised peoples to gain independence.
Critics have said the changes are part of an increasingly insidious attempt to “brainwash” children as young as six with Beijing propaganda.
“Clearly, the overhaul wasn’t designed to serve students’ interest but to fulfil a political end,” said Timothy Lee, an activist and former district councillor in Kowloon City who fled Hong Kong last spring.
“Schools are becoming yet another battleground... to implement a ‘second takeover’, to build loyalty to the state.”
The changes “reflect the increasing mainlandisation of Hong Kong”, said Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute.
“Under the Communist Party, education is the key instrument for making people embrace the party, its leadership and its version of history,” he said. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2022)
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