Hong Kong backs down on China education plan

HONG KONG Sat Sep 8, 2012 2:28pm EDT

1 of 6. Ten of thousand protesters express their refusal for the launch of national education in schools as they take part in a demonstration outside government headquarters in Hong Kong September 7, 2012. A wave of protests in Hong Kong ahead of elections is posing a major test for the city's new leader as the prospect of voter discontent threatens to shake up the political landscape in retaliation against perceived meddling by Beijing.

Credit: Reuters/Tyrone Siu

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HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong's government withdrew plans for a compulsory Chinese school curriculum on Saturday after tens of thousands took to the streets in protest at what they said was a move to "brainwash" students.

The decision by the island's pro-China Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to make the curriculum voluntary for schools came a day before elections for just over half the seats of Hong Kong's 70-seat legislature.

"We don't want the recent controversy to affect the operations of schools, nor do we want to see the harmony of the education environment to be affected," said Leung, noting the move was a "major policy amendment".

"They have made a substantive concession," said Joseph Wong, a former senior government official and political scientist.

"One may say it's too late, but better late than never. I think it will defuse the issue, maybe not entirely, but at least it will remove a lot of the tensions ... This is a great day for Hong Kong's civil society."

For the past week, thousands of protesters have ringed Hong Kong's government headquarters, camped out in tents, dressed in black and chanting for the withdrawal of the curriculum they said was Communist Party propaganda aimed at indoctrinating new generations of primary and secondary school students.

The education issue is one of several key issues for voters along with housing and the increasing number of visitors from the mainland coming into the city.


Leung was sworn in in July after being elected by a committee filled with business professionals, tycoons and Beijing loyalists. Hong Kong's seven million people have no say in who becomes their chief executive.

A strong showing by the opposition pro-democracy camp would make it more difficult for the chief executive to pass policies in a fractious legislature.

The polls may be a chance for voters to express anti-China sentiment, with many protesters still camped outside the government headquarters after the apparent back-down, still unsatisfied with the policy change.

"This is a cunning move to put the ball in the people's court. Even though they say schools are free to choose ... in the coming years I expect the government and Beijing to use hidden means to try to pressure more and more schools to take up the scheme," said young activist Mak Chi-ho.

"What Hong Kong needs is real universal suffrage."

Hong Kong is a freewheeling capitalist hub which enjoys a high degree of autonomy, but Beijing has resisted public pressure for full democracy and has maintained a high degree of influence in political, media and academic spheres.

The past week's protests have included hunger strikes and the parading of a replica of the Goddess of Democracy statue which was erected in Beijing's Tiananmen Square during the 1989 demonstrations and crackdown.

The latest outbreak of discontent represents yet another headache for Beijing, after Chinese President Hu Jintao appealed in July for Hong Kong to maintain unity, with Beijing's own leaders grappling with an imminent leadership transition.

(Additional reporting by Alex Frew McMillan; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree and Robin Pomeroy)

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Comments (7)
Abulafiah wrote:
Good for Hong Kong! Keep that Chinese communist propaganda out of schools. Schools are supposed to educate, not indoctrinate.

It is no wonder the people of Hong Kong wish the British were still governing. I wonder how long it will be before the Chinese flood the place with suitably indoctrinated Han Chinese to assimilate the region, as they did with Xinjiang and are now doing with Tibet, or simply send in the military?

Sep 08, 2012 10:59am EDT  --  Report as abuse
Konger wrote:
Please, verify the announcement with the details of what is actually going on. The devil is in the details.

The government announcement dropped the three-year implementation period, and stated that MNE will not be mandatory in the five year term of the current government, while nothing is said about beyond the five years.

The government purports to let schools decide whether to introduce the subject of MNE, but recent reforms in the education system have systematically and significantly diminished schools’ autonomy. Schools that are wholly or partially funded by the government will highly likely implement the current MNE.

Not a single word of the so-called concession addressed the problematic education goals, curriculum design, and the function of the unrepresentative consultation committee.

The issues we worry about most are still going to be forced upon students unless we continue to press the government with sustained efforts. Which is to say, the government did not actually back down, but is trying to force through exactly the same thing through PR tactics.

Sep 08, 2012 1:21pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
reelnews wrote:
Hong Kong is city or region, left-over from British Empires colonization of the port to sell opium to China. There is no people of hong kong. it’s city and nothing more. I’m surprise the hong kong judges and lawyers still wear white british wigs? Even in many commonwealth countries they don’t wear silly wigs or silly British Costumes anymore. Hong Kong are the ones “brainwashed” with ‘foreign’ western education. Hong Kong is China territory. but due to it being former British colony changing it’s structural and significance in the Asian economic region results in too much protesting from the cities 10 million residence.

Sep 08, 2012 6:34pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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