In the new textbook, Hong Kong was never a British colony

HONG KONG – Many students around the world have long been taught that Hong Kong was once a colony of the British Empire. But students in Hong Kong will soon learn another lesson: It’s not.

Beijing has steadfastly maintained that view of the city’s status quo, long before Britain returned the city to China in 1997, and years before a sweeping crackdown crushed the movement. Pro-democracy is thriving in the once semi-autonomous territory.

Now, as Hong Kong prepares to celebrate its 25th anniversary since its handover to China on 1 July 1997, that view – countering the way the British view their relationship with the city – will be explicitly taught to Hong Kong high school students aged at least four years old. New textbooks will be released in the fall.

Textbook material is still being reviewed by principals, teachers, scholars and staff of the Hong Kong Department of Education, but it appears to be for classrooms. Local news websites published draft excerpts this week, and The New York Times viewed copies of teachers’ evidence. The document aligns with a broader campaign by China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, to overhaul Hong Kong’s schools, “protect the young souls” and enhance public health. loyal and patriotic people.

Jeffrey Ngo, a pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong and a doctoral candidate in history at Georgetown University, says the government’s position is “in short,” Hong Kong has always been part of China. country, so Hong Kongers can never claim a right to self-determination. ‘”

“It’s about trying to make sure the next generation of young people will support or at least sympathize with what the government is saying,” Ngo added. “This is part of the remake of Hong Kong in the era of national security.”

Under the terms of the 1997 handover negotiated with Britain, China agreed that the economic and social system of the territory would remain unchanged for 50 years after the resumption of sovereignty, resulting in Hong Kong. Kong initially enjoyed a high degree of autonomy compared to the mainland. As Beijing’s moves threatened that settlement, protesters took to the streets in 2014 and again in 2019.

Following pro-democracy protests in 2019 against the Chinese Communist Party’s grip on the city, Beijing sought to punish dissidents, restrict free speech and target independent news agencies and pro-democracy leaders. It has prosecuted thousands of activists, and some fled life in exile. A national security law imposed on Hong Kong has also given authorities sweeping powers to silence protesters. Another target of the officials is Hong Kong’s education system, which, they say, has shaped the beliefs of the young people leading the protests.

Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute in London, said that since China’s leadership issued in 2013 a memorandum called Document No. 9 aimed at Western influences in the country, China has only allowed one version history. teach. Hong Kong will no longer be an exception to this rule.

“In Xi’s approach to history, events are just random,” says Professor Tsang. “Only interpretation matters. And only one interpretation is allowed.

Scholars and historians argue that China’s portrayal of Hong Kong’s status under British rule is not new. Although before 1949, the Communist Party referred to China as “a semi-colonial, semi-feudal society”, but since at least 1997, the Communist Party has asserted that Hong Kong is not a colony actually, Ho-Mush Hung, professor of political economy at Johns Hopkins University and author of “The City on the Edge: Hong Kong Under Chinese Rule.”

He cited an article in the party newspaper, People’s Daily, published in March 1997, arguing: “The UK has implemented typical colonial rule in Hong Kong, but by no means Hong Kong. Kong is a colony. Colony in the common sense mainly refers to countries that have lost their sovereignty due to foreign rule and jurisdiction. Hong Kong is part of China’s territory, so the concept of a colony does not apply to Hong Kong”.

In the 19th century, Britain took over what is now Hong Kong through two wars and a series of treaties that the Chinese government considers unequal and coercive.

In 1946, the United Nations listed Hong Kong as “non-self-governing territories”, and in a 1960 resolution said the people there should be granted “the right to self-determination”. In 1972, after Beijing took over China’s seat in the world body, it successfully pushed the United Nations to remove Hong Kong from the list, arguing that deciding Hong Kong’s future rested with China’s sovereignty. Country.

“Beijing has never recognized that China has relinquished its sovereignty over Hong Kong, that British rule in Hong Kong is lawful and that 1997 was the time when China resumed exercising its sovereignty over Hong Kong. with Hong Kong,” Lau Siu-kai, Beijing’s senior adviser on Hong Kong policy, said in an interview.

He added, “Beijing only admits that Britain has imposed a ‘colonial regime’ on Hong Kong. Textbooks, of course, must reflect Beijing’s position. ”

Mr. Lau, who has been appointed editorial advisor to one of the textbooks, declined to comment further on the book itself, saying he played only a limited role.

The new textbooks seem to be the foundation of a revamped high school civics course that in previous years they had been called liberal studies. It is used to emphasize critical thinking and to teach students to be objective and analytical. The older curriculum, developed by education officials in 2007 and periodically updated, does not appear to have addressed the circumstances that led to Hong Kong’s handover. Some teachers discussed democracy, civil rights and even the Tiananmen Square massacre as part of their lesson plans.

The new course, renamed Citizenship and Social Development last year, lists “Hong Kong back to China” as part of its first lesson plan. It places more emphasis on patriotism, China’s “indisputable sovereign rights and jurisdiction”, and national security law.

Textbook excerpts seen by The Times repeatedly reinforce the party’s stance on Hong Kong. “The British act of aggression violated the principles of international law so its occupation of the Hong Kong area should not have been recognized as lawful,” read the proof-reading publication for educators. member of a textbook published by the Hong Kong Educational Publishing Company.

“Hong Kong has no colonial status, and therefore no so-called right of self-determination,” it continued.

The Hong Kong Education Publishing Company, which publishes two of the four textbooks, did not respond to a request for comment. Two other textbook publishers deny Hong Kong’s colonial status: Aristo Education Publishing and the Society for Modern Educational Research do, too.

The Hong Kong Department of Education, which oversees the review of new textbooks, said in a statement last week that the verification process is confidential and that the department will “monitor” those who have violated the terms. its.

It does not identify anyone and does not answer questions about the contents of the books.

Austin Ramzy contributed reporting.

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