Hong Kong Protests Patriotism Classes

Amid fears that the mainland is increasing their involvement in Hong Kong politics, the San Francisco Chronicle reports parents, students, and teachers took to the streets in Hong Kong to protest China’s planned curriculum change:

Tens of thousands including teachers and parents pushing strollers took to Hong Kong streets Sunday to protest the upcoming introduction of Chinese patriotism classes they fear will lead to brainwashing, the latest sign of growing discomfort over Beijing’s influence in the semiautonomous territory.

Students and pro-democracy activists were among those who marched to the Hong Kong government’s headquarters to protest the new curriculum, which authorities are encouraging schools to begin using when classes resume in September.

The protest is the latest sign of growing discontent in Hong Kong over mainland China’s increasing influence 15 years after the freewheeling financial center was returned to China by Britain following more than a century of colonial rule. Tensions have also been stoked by growing economic inequality and as well as an influx of free-spending wealthy Chinese, who are seen as driving up property prices and shop rents.

Sunday’s demonstrators carried placards and banners and shouted slogans calling for the government to withdraw its plan to introduce the Moral and National Education curriculum.

According to the New York Times, protesters have referred to the change as ‘brainwashing’:

Victoria Park, the traditional starting point for the city’s frequent mass protests, was a sea of umbrellas as parents shielded their children from the subtropical sun. There have been at least two demonstrations since June: Hong Kong’s annual vigil for the victims of the 1989 crackdown, and a protest on the 15th anniversary of the former British colony’s handover to Chinese rule. The latter coincided with the swearing-in of Hong Kong’s new Beijing-backed leader, Leung Chun-ying, on July 1.

The crowd Sunday, including many young families, blocked off large parts of the Causeway Bay commercial area as it inched toward the new government headquarters in the city center. Many felt that the changes were rushed through without public consultation.

Critics liken the curriculum to brainwashing and say that it glosses over major events like the Cultural Revolution and the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. It will be introduced into some primary schools in September and be mandatory for all public schools by 2016.

Before the protest, Jiang Yudui of the China Civic Education Promotion Association of Hong Kong added fuel to the fire when he told the Hong Kong public that the curriculum should “wash their brains.

Hong Kong officials have responded to the protests claiming  they only used the China booklet as a model, but Hong Kong residents have expressed discontent for its officials. From Reuters UK:

While the booklet touches on some negative aspects of contemporary Chinese history including unfair land grabs by corrupt officials and a toxic milk powder scandal, it makes no mention of the June 4, 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

It also describes the U.S. political system as having “created social turbulence” and harmed people’s livelihoods.

They responded to the protesters’ concerns by saying a “broadly representative” committee would be formed to monitor the scheme after its implementation in the coming few years, before deciding whether it becomes a mandatory course or not.

“We definitely would not want to see any so-called brainwashing type of education from happening. If that indeed happens, which we do not believe will happen…we would be the first one to come out to condemn such a situation,” said Lee Chack-fan, chairman of a group tasked with drafting the guidelines for the national education scheme.

These protests come during a time when anti-Beijing sentiments are high, AFP adds:

Sunday’s protest underscored rising anti-Beijing sentiments, coming weeks after the city’s biggest demonstration in nearly a decade, as new leader Leung Chun-ying was sworn in before Chinese President Hu Jintao.

A poll released by the University of Hong Kong last month showed the number of people in the former British colony identifying themselves as citizens of China had plunged to a 13-year-low. More identified themselves as Hong Kongers.

Under the proposal, students would take 50 hours of lessons a year focusing on “building national harmony, identity and unity among individuals”. There would be no exams.

Anti-Beijing protests are a regular fixture in the regional financial centre of seven million people.

Read more about Hong Kong’s relationship with the mainland, via CDT.