Parents protest at Chinese ‘brainwashing’ in schools
Tens of thousands of Hong Kong parents marched in the streets yesterday to protest against a school curriculum plan they said was an attempt to brainwash students by extolling the achievements of the Chinese Communist Party.
The controversy is the latest backlash against perceived political influence from Beijing in the former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
The furore focuses on a Hong Kong government-funded 34-page book titled The China Model celebrating China’s single party Communist state as a unique political system under which its economy and society have flourished.
The book will form the basis of a national education curriculum for students aged six years and older in Hong Kong schools.
“We don’t want our child to be fed this material, said P S Ho, who joined the protest along with his wife and four-year-old daughter. “If the initiative continues without changes, maybe we will change schools later or emigrate to another country.”
Parents with children in push chairs, secondary school students and activists joined the rally on a sweltering afternoon, carrying placards and handing out pamphlets decrying the education plan.
Police estimated 32,000 people turned out for the protest.
“Parents are concerned. We don’t want them to brainwash our children’s minds,” said Linda Wong, a member of a parent concern group and a mother of one.
While the booklet touches on some negative aspects of contemporary Chinese history including unfair land grabs by corrupt officials and a toxic milk powder scandal, it makes no mention of the 4 June crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989.
It also describes the US political system as having “created social turbulence”.
“This material is given to elementary school students. They don’t have the independent thinking capabilities to judge for themselves,” said Joseph Wong, 19, a member of a youth activist group.
“China wants Hong Kong’s next generation to know how great it is and not know the bad stuff,” said Chan Yip-Long, a nine-year-old primary school student. “The booklet is very biased, so I am opposing it.”
Hong Kong officials rejected any plan to introduce Chinese-style propaganda, saying The China Model was only a guide.
“We definitely would not want to see any so-called brainwashing type of education from happening. If that indeed happens … we would be the first one to come out to condemn such a situation,” said Lee Chack-fan, chairman of a group tasked with drafting the guidelines for the national education scheme.
Yet the government has stood firm and plans to make the subject compulsory in primary schools starting in 2015 and in secondary schools the year after, although schools are encouraged to start using it earlier.
According to the curriculum guidelines, students will learn about China’s political leaders, the efforts and contributions they have made and the difficulties and challenges they face, as well as how to “speak cautiously,” practise self-discipline and get along well with others in a rational and respectful manner.
The protest is the latest sign of growing discontent in Hong Kong over mainland China’s increasing influence 15 years after the freewheeling financial centre was returned to China.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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