Hong Kong’s government said a broadly representative committee would monitor how “moral and national” education is implemented in local schools, but it didn’t back down on introducing the curriculum, after tens of thousands of demonstrators marched Sunday to protest it as “brainwashing.”
Despite the oppressive summer heat, the throng – which included parents pushing strollers or walking with young children – filled the streets for hours. Thousands of students also took part, waving placards and chanting slogans opposing the Communist Party’s one-sided account of events such as the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. Police estimated the crowd at 32,000.
In 2010, following Chinese President Hu Jintao’s call to teach Hong Kong youth about the “great tradition of loving the motherland,” the city’s then-leader, Donald Tsang, announced plans for moral and national education. After a public backlash, the government delayed implementation from this fall until 2015.
The plan requires teachers to include a certain number of hours of related curriculum per year but gives them discretion in what materials to use, according to the government – though in recent weeks it has been embarrassed by news that it helped fund a booklet offering lavish praise of China’s one-party state that has been distributed to government schools.
Titled “The China Model,” the 34-page booklet declares the country is led by a “progressive, selfless and united ruling group,” and argues that multiparty systems set up “malignant party struggle.” The pro-Beijing institute that published the booklet received $1 million in Hong Kong government funding between 2008 and 2011, including $297,000 for the production of educational materials. Some 30,000 copies went to government schools in recent months.
Public anger was further fanned last week when news surfaced that Hong Kong’s government helped pay for 400 local high-school students to travel this month to Mao Zedong’s birthplace in Shaoshan, Hunan. A government spokesman said that in addition to visiting a memorial hall for Mao, students also visited other tourist spots as well as industrial sites. The trip was supported with about $130,000 in public funds.
Sunday’s protest took place amid heightened sensitivities in the former British colony, which swore in new leader Leung Chun-ying on July 1, a day in which thousands of prodemocracy activists also swarmed the streets. Though Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997, it continues to maintain its own political and economic system under a principle called “one country, two systems.”
A survey last week by the University of Hong Kong found that only 12 percent of respondents polled want the curriculum implemented on schedule, while 52 percent want it shelved and 30 percent have no opinion.
In response to Sunday’s protest, Hong Kong’s government said it would form a review committee. Meanwhile, Leung’s administration continued to defend plans for implementation.
“Teachers should not avoid discussion of controversial issues,” a government spokesman said, adding that the government won’t mandate the use of any teaching materials. The goal of “moral and national education,” the spokesman said, is to “cultivate students’ capacity to distinguish right from wrong and to think independently.”
Tat Wong Yeung, 33, a local writer who marched Sunday, said the government’s response shows that it won’t be moved by the voices of protesters, even if tens of thousands of them pour into the streets. “They aren’t listening to the voice of the people,” Tat said. “I think the only thing we can do to persuade them to stop [its plans] is for students to refuse to show up to school.”
Category: Hong Kong