New textbooks in Hong Kong will teach students that the city was never a British colony, following an overhaul of a school subject that authorities have accused of running pro-democracy protests.
According to local reports, the new texts will teach students that the Chinese government did not recognize the treaties that left the city to Britain after the opium wars. They ended in 1997 when Britain returned Hong Kong to Chinese control, and therefore the texts claim that Hong Kong was never a British colony.
The new books also adopt Beijing’s account that the 2019 protest movement was driven by “external forces,” the South China Morning Post reported.
The four sets of textbooks for Hong Kong’s liberal studies were published online last week, allowing schools to select materials for the new academic year in September. They will be used by fourth-grade students in “Citizenship and Social Development”, which replaced the course for liberal studies designed in 2009 to teach students critical thinking. In 2020, the liberal study course was attacked by pro-Beijing authorities who accused it of pushing young people against protests and promised redress.
CEO Carrie Lam said the students needed protection from being “poisoned” and fed with “false and biased information”.
A subsequent overhaul of the education system included increased focus on national security and patriotism, with teachers encouraged to report students who violated the National Security Act.
“It is necessary for schools to teach students to think positively and to love their nation,” the head of Hong Kong’s education department said on Monday.
Several of the textbooks discuss the National Security Act of 2020 – much criticized for violating fundamental freedoms by banning acts of dissent such as terrorism, secession, foreign cooperation or sedition. It is said that the law was introduced in response to “violent terrorist activities” and illegal acts in 2019 that threatened national sovereignty and security.
Another mentioned “national security” 400 times in 121 pages, the report states.
China’s state-sponsored tabloid, the Global Times, said the changes would ensure that “some teachers will no longer be able to convey their crazy and toxic political views to students while teaching this course.”
Tang Fei, an editor and reviewer of two of the textbooks, and also a legislator in Hong Kong, told the outlet that the texts had passed internal review and are now awaiting final approval. With the new texts “there will be no need for school teachers to include too much other content”, said Tang.
The proposed new textbooks come just weeks before Hong Kong marks 25 years since the British were handed over. The territory was promised 50 years of semi-autonomy, but activists claim that the aftermath of 2019, national security law, election changes and increasing central government interventions in civil society and the media have in fact already ended this autonomy.
This year’s anniversary July 1 will also mark the first day of office of the city’s new Beijing anointed leader John Lee. Lee, the former head of security, will take over from Lam.
China’s senior leaders have traditionally attended the swearing-in ceremony. Xi Jinping’s turnout has not been confirmed, but speculation grew after at least one Hong Kong primary school announced it was looking for students to spend a week in hotel quarantine, suggesting preparations for a strict “closed loop” system will allow Xi to visit.
Additional reporting by Chi Hui Lin and Xiaoqian Zhu