New Hong Kong textbooks will teach pupils that the city was never a British colony, after an overhaul of a school subject authorities have blamed for sparking pro-democracy protests.
According to local reports, the new texts will teach students that the Chinese government did not recognize the treaties that ceded the city to Britain after the Opium Wars. They ended in 1997 when Britain returned Hong Kong to Chinese control, and so the texts state that Hong Kong was never a British colony.
The new books also adopt Beijing’s narrative that the 2019 protest movement was driven by “external forces”, the South China Morning Post reported.
The four sets of textbooks for the Hong Kong Liberal Studies subject went online last week, so schools can choose materials for the new school year in September. They are intended for use by CM1 students in the Citizenship and Social Development classes, which replaced the Liberal Studies course designed in 2009 to teach students critical thinking. In 2020, the liberal studies class came under attack from pro-Beijing authorities who blamed it for pushing young people to protest and promised a rectification.
Chief executive Carrie Lam said students needed to be protected from ‘poisoning’ and ‘false and biased information’.
A subsequent overhaul of the education system emphasized national security and patriotism, with teachers encouraged to report students who violated the national security law.
“There is a need for schools to teach students to think positively and love their nation,” the head of Hong Kong’s education department said on Monday.
Several of the manuals deal with the National Security Act 2020 – widely criticized as undermining fundamental freedoms by prohibiting acts of dissent such as terrorism, secessionism, foreign collusion or sedition. One reportedly said the law was introduced in response to “violent terrorist activities” and unlawful acts in 2019 that endangered national sovereignty and security.
Another mentioned “national security” 400 times on 121 pages, according to the report.
China’s state-backed tabloid, the Global Times, said the changes would ensure that “some teachers will no longer be able to convey their misguided and toxic political views to students when teaching this course”.
Tang Fei, editor and reviewer of two of the textbooks, and also a Hong Kong lawmaker, told the outlet that the texts had passed internal review and were now awaiting final approval. With the new texts, “there won’t be a need for teachers to bring in too much other content,” Tang said.
The new textbooks on offer come just weeks before Hong Kong marks the 25th anniversary of the British handover. The territory was promised 50 years of semi-autonomy, but activists say the post-2019 crackdown, national security law, electoral changes and growing central government interventions in civil society and the media have already put end to this autonomy.
This year’s birthday, July 1, will also mark the first day in office of the city’s new Beijing-appointed leader, John Lee. Lee, the former security chief, will succeed Lam.
Senior Chinese leaders have traditionally attended the swearing-in ceremony. Xi Jinping’s attendance has not been confirmed, but speculation grew after at least one primary school in Hong Kong announced it was looking for students to spend a week in hotel quarantine, suggesting that the preparations for a strict “closed-loop” system will allow Xi to visit.
Additional reporting by Chi Hui Lin and Xiaoqian Zhu