Hong Kong frets over "China Model" patriotic education

HONG KONG (Reuters) - A Chinese book that aims to pave the way for “patriotic education” in Hong Kong and instill a greater sense of identity has unnerved many in this free-wheeling city amid growing concerns over Beijing’s influence.

The book, titled “The China Model,” has re-ignited debate over what some see as propaganda-style education in Hong Kong, where people are becoming increasingly vocal over controversial issues ranging from human rights to press freedom and pollution.

Much of the 34-page book is devoted to the political system in China, where the ruling party is portrayed as “progressive, altruistic and united”, while it says the U.S. political system has “created social turbulence and is harmful to people’s livelihood”.

The city’s National Education Service Centre distributed the book to schools across Hong Kong up to last Friday, just a week after the 15th anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese rule on July 1.

Local media reports have criticized the contents of the book, saying it is biased and is aimed at brainwashing Hong Kong students.

“It’s all about the good sides of China and it lacks critical discussions,” said Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, a political scientist at City University of Hong Kong.

“I’m worried that this kind of national education will slowly and completely erode the values of Hong Kong people.”

The book comes at a time when “negative” feelings towards Beijing are at a record high and the number of Hong Kong people who identify themselves as Chinese citizens is at a 13-year low, according to recent polls by the University of Hong Kong.

“Patriotic education” will be mandatory in all primary and middle Hong Kong schools by 2015, when students will be required to do 50 hours of lectures annually that stress “building national harmony, identity and unity among individuals”.

China has strived to nurture Hong Kong’s integration with the mainland, offering economic sweeteners and a push for Mandarin in classrooms in the city, where most people speak Cantonese.

Students have also voiced their concerns about compulsory “patriotic education”.

“I consider myself both a Chinese and Hong Kong citizen. I love my country and I see no problem with patriotism,” said Jasper Wong, 15, the co-founder of a student-led group against the curriculum reform.

“But patriotism shouldn’t be cultivated through a school subject and I don’t think we should introduce a subject that aims to brainwash students.”

Editing by Elaine Lies and Jeremy Laurence