HomeWorldIn these new textbooks, Hong Kong was never a British colony

In these new textbooks, Hong Kong was never a British colony

HONG KONG — For a long time, many schoolchildren around the world have been taught that Hong Kong was once a colony of the British Empire. But Hong Kong students will soon learn a different lesson: It didn’t.

Beijing has steadfastly held to that vision of the state of the city, long before Britain handed the city back to China in 1997, and years before a sweeping crackdown crushed a thriving pro-democracy movement in the once semi-autonomous territory.

Now, as Hong Kong prepares to mark 25 years since its handover to China on July 1, 1997, that viewpoint, which rejects how the British viewed their relationship with the city, will be explicitly taught to high school students in Hong Kong. Hong Kong through at least four new textbooks to be released in the fall.

The textbook material is still being reviewed by principals, teachers, academics, and employees of the Hong Kong Bureau of Education, but appears to be intended for classrooms. Local news Websites posted draft excerpts this week, and The New York Times saw teachers’ proof copies. The material is part of a broader campaign by China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, to reform Hong Kong’s schools, “protect young minds” and raise loyal and patriotic citizens.

Jeffrey Ngo, a pro-democracy activist from Hong Kong and a Ph.D. candidate in history at Georgetown University, said the government’s position “is a shorthand way of saying, ‘Hong Kong was always part of China, so that Hongkongers were never able to claim a right of self-determination.’”

“This is about making sure that the next generation of young children support or at least sympathize with what the government says,” Mr Ngo added. “This is part of the new version of Hong Kong in the age of national security.”

Under the terms of the 1997 handover negotiated with Britain, China agreed that the territory’s social and economic systems would remain unchanged for 50 years after it resumed sovereignty, with the result that Hong Kong initially had a high degree of autonomy from the continent. When movements from Beijing threatened that arrangement, protesters took to the streets in 2014 and again in 2019.

In the wake of the 2019 pro-democracy protests against the Chinese Communist Party’s tightening control over the city, Beijing sought to punish dissent, limit freedom of expression, and attack independent media and political leaders. in favor of democracy. He prosecuted thousands of activists and some fled into exile. A national security law imposed in Hong Kong also gave authorities broad power to silence opposition. The officials also attacked Hong Kong’s education system which they said had shaped the beliefs of the young people who led the demonstrations.

Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute in London, said that since the Chinese leadership issued a memorandum known as Document No. 9 in 2013 targeting Western influences in the country, China has allowed only one version of the truth to be known. history. I teach. Hong Kong would no longer be an exception to the rule.

“In Xi’s approach to history, the facts are merely incidental,” Professor Tsang said. “Only the interpretation matters. And only one interpretation is allowed.”

Academics and historians said China’s portrayal of Hong Kong’s status under British rule is not new. Although the Communist Party had referred to China before 1949 as a “half-colonial, half-feudal society,” it has maintained since at least 1997 that Hong Kong was not a true colony, said Ho-fung Hung, a political economy professor at the Johns Hopkins University and author of “City on the Edge: Hong Kong Under Chinese Rule.”

He quoted an article in the party’s newspaper, People’s Daily, published in March 1997, which argued: “The UK has exercised typical colonial rule in Hong Kong, but that does not mean that Hong Kong is a colony. Colonies in the usual sense primarily refer to countries that have lost their sovereignty due to foreign rule and jurisdiction. Hong Kong is part of the territory of China, so the colony concept does not apply to Hong Kong.”

In the 19th century, Great Britain took over what is now present-day Hong Kong via two wars and a series of treaties that the Chinese government says were lopsided and coerced.

In 1946, the United Nations included Hong Kong in a list of “non autonomous territories”, and in a 1960 resolution he said the people there should be granted “the right to self-determination.” In 1972, after Beijing took over China’s place in the world body, he successfully lobbied the UN to remove Hong Kong from the list, arguing that China had a sovereign right to decide Hong Kong’s future.

“Beijing never recognized that China had relinquished its sovereignty over Hong Kong, that the British government in Hong Kong had legitimacy, and that 1997 is the time when China resumed exercising sovereignty over Hong Kong,” said Lau Siu-kai, senior adviser to Beijing. about Hong Kong politics, he said in an interview.

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

Mr. Lau, who is appointed editorial advisor to one of the textbooks, declined to comment further on the books themselves, saying he had only played a limited role.

The new textbooks appear to be the centerpiece of a revamped high school civics course that in years past was known as liberal studies. He used to emphasize critical thinking and taught students to be objective and analytical. the oldest resume, which was developed by education officials in 2007 and regularly updated, did not appear to address the circumstances that led to the Hong Kong handover. Some teachers discussed democracy, civil rights and even the Tiananmen Square massacre as part of their curricula.

The new course, which was renamed Citizenship and Social Development last year, it lists “Hong Kong’s return to China” as part of the first lesson plan. It places greater emphasis on patriotism, China’s “indisputable sovereignty and jurisdiction,” and national security law.

Textbook excerpts seen by The Times repeatedly reinforce the party’s position on Hong Kong. “British aggression violated the principles of international law, so its occupation of the Hong Kong region should not have been recognized as lawful,” read the proof copy of a Hong Kong-published teachers’ edition of a textbook. Educational Publishing Company.

“Hong Kong did not have colonial status and therefore there was no such thing as self-determination,” he continued.

The Hong Kong Educational Publishing Company, which published two of the four textbooks, did not respond to requests for comment. Neither did two other textbook publishers who denied Hong Kong’s colonial status: Aristo Educational Press and the Modern Educational Research Society.

The Hong Kong Office of Education, which oversees the review of new textbooks, said in a statement last week that the testing process was confidential and that the department would “follow up” with those who had violated its terms.

He did not identify anyone and did not answer questions about the contents of the books.

Austin Ramzy contributed reporting.

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