Education Protests Mount Ahead of Hong Kong Vote

Ahead of Sunday’s election for a new legislature in Hong Kong, tens of thousands of people gathered in front of the government offices there to protest planned curriculum changes that they fear insert propaganda from the Chinese government into secondary school coursework. From the Washington Post:

The standoff — which features echoes of the 1989 pro-democracy protests in China’s Tiananmen Square — marks a dramatic escalation in a long campaign by students, teachers and parents against the introduction of “national education” courses in Hong Kong schools. The courses are part of an effort to boost a sense of shared identity with the rest of China.

The hunger strike itself, launched last week outside government headquarters in this former British colony, involves fewer than 10 people. But thousands of others, mostly teenagers, have flocked to show support, filling a plaza in front of the government complex with banners, tents, sleeping bags and loudspeakers.

Protesters condemn the courses as “brainwashing” and a violation of the “one country, two systems” formula under which Hong Kong was returned to China 15 years ago after more than a century and half of colonial rule.

Officials here strenuously deny this characterization and say their aim is to promote a greater understanding of China, not obedience to China’s ruling party.

In recent months, Hong Kong residents have expressed increasing concern over Beijing’s role in Hong Kong affairs, which is widely expected to impact the results of Sunday’s election. From Reuters:

This time round, Hong Kong’s legislature will have a more democratic flavour – it has been expanded from 60 to 70 seats, with just over half of them to be directly elected on Sunday.

But the results are likely to reflect a recent upsurge in anti-China sentiment, which has been exacerbated by a plan for a school curriculum extolling the achievements of the Chinese Communist Party.

Thousands of people have demonstrated outside government headquarters for the past week demanding the school programme be scrapped, forcing Leung Chun-ying to cancel what was to have been his first major international engagement as Hong Kong’s leader at an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Russia.

An article in the China Daily left open the possibility that plans for the “national curriculum” could be scrapped in response to the protests:

In response to hunger strikes and class boycotts which demand the withdrawal of MNE, he said the government understands the requests, but maintained there are still many possibilities to be discussed, including scrapping the subject. Leung repeated his earlier reassurance that he has instructed police to tolerate demonstrators at the protest area while maintaining order. “We have not had any plans to evict them at all.”

Wu said the committee’s terms of reference are open and all discussions and recommendations would be included in the committee’s report to the CE, after their first meeting by the end of this month.

To get up-to-the-minute updates on the protests in Hong Kong, follow South China Morning Post reporter @VivienneChow on Twitter or search the hashtag #NationalEducation.