More than 3,000 Hong Kong residents braved the rain to protest the government’s plan to begin a national education program, which they say is biased toward Beijing.
Parents, students and teachers were among those gathering outside the government’s new headquarters on Tim Mei Avenue today, the first of the school semester, demanding the curriculum be scrapped. Demonstrators said they fear the material is biased towards the Chinese Communist Party and may stifle independent thinking.
“The national education program is aimed at fostering blind patriotism among students,” said Joshua Wong, a spokesman for Scholarism, an organizer of the rally. “We fear that many students will be brainwashed.”
The authorities intend to extend national education classes, which aim to foster Chinese identity, to secondary schools from 2013 and phase in the lessons over three years.
Today’s rally comes after tens of thousands of parents and students marched against the program on July 29, many clad in black and white to symbolize the contrast between right and wrong. More than 90,000 people attended the July 29 protests, according to Andrew Shum of the Hong Kong Christian Institute, which helped arrange the demonstrations. Police estimated that, at most, about 32,000 protesters were in the procession.
Police estimated about 3,400 people were gathered for today’s rally at 5 p.m. local time. Three members of Scholarism, a student group, have been on a hunger strike outside the building for more than two days.
Leung Chun-ying, Hong Kong’s leader who was inaugurated on July 1, said in a July 30 statement that his government won’t force the introduction of the lessons in September. The government isn’t in a rush to start national education and labeling it as brainwashing would be wrong, Carrie Lam, the city’s chief secretary of administration, said today.
There’s no plan to forcibly push ahead with the program in September, Lam said, according to a TV report.
“We want our kids to know more about China, but such curriculums may teach them to confuse a country with its ruling party,” said Eva Chan, of Parents’ Concern Group on National Education, which helped organize the rally today. “If taught like this at young ages, they may not be able to criticize the government.”
Textbooks in the program may give a pro-Communist Party account of China’s history and political system, according to Willy Wo-Lap Lam, an adjunct professor of history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
One textbook explains how the Communist Party is a progressive, united and effective ruler, comparing it with the U.S. where a two-party system leads to eternal debates and gridlock, Lam said in a July 29 interview.
“The level of crudity is even worse than that of the textbooks you find in China,” he said.
Hong Kong, a former British colony that in July marked 15 years since its return to Chinese rule, is officially autonomous except for matters of national defense and diplomatic relations.
Voters head to the polls on Sept. 9 to elect members of the city’s Legislative Council.
Lawmakers have challenged Leung’s credibility as the financial center’s leader after his home was found to have illegally built structures and his development secretary stepped down to address corruption allegations.