Thousands of students, teachers, and families in Hong Kong protested since the beginning of this month against the government’s plan to introduce “unbalanced” Chinese patriotism classes, also known as the “moral and national education.”
This Sunday, September 9, people in Hong Kong has gone to the polls to elect the new 70-seat legislature, in hopes that their newly elected legislative bodies would better represent their oppositions against the government’s plan for what's seen as a compulsory "brainwash" pro-Beijing education.
It is the second mass demonstration against the education policy in two months, after 90,000 took to the streets in July. Police estimates last Saturday’s periodically rain-soaked crowd at 8,100 at its peak, while organizers said 40,000 had turned up to express their dissatisfaction. Students also launched a 72-hour hunger strike to oppose the government’s plan.
The new curriculum is similar to the so-called patriotic education taught in mainland China. The materials, including a handbook titled “The China Model,” describe the Communist Party as “progressive, selfless and united” and criticize multi-party systems, even though Hong Kong has multiple political parties.
The government says the curriculum is important in fostering a sense of national belonging and identity, amid rising anti-Beijing sentiment in the semi-autonomous southern city of seven million people.
But critics say the lessons extol the virtues of one-party rule and gloss over events like the bloody Tiananmen crackdown on pro-democracy protestors in 1989, and the mass starvation and extrajudicial killing of Mao’s Cultural Revolution.
While the government agreed earlier this year to delay plans for mandatory implementation of curriculum until 2015, it’s insisted that plans for moral and national education will continue to move forward. Last Saturday, an education bureau spokesman said the government would “continue to listen to the alternate views of different groups of people,” and that schools would be permitted to design and develop their curriculum on an individual basis.
While a handful of elementary schools have started teaching these courses, most schools have said they will not introduce the subject this year and want to see more details about how it should be taught.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has ignored protestors’ calls for a meeting and refused to abandon plans to implement the new education policy, which schools can adopt voluntarily from this week and will become compulsory by 2016.
“We are willing to talk to the anti-national education parties, but the prerequisite of the dialogue cannot be either to withdraw or not to withdraw,” Leung told reporters.