China’s push to tame Hong Kong has focused heavily on schools

Altered textbooks part of revamped civics course Beijing says is aimed ‘protecting young minds’

To understand how China is reshaping Hong Kong, consider how the city’s textbooks are changing.

China has long asserted that Hong Kong was never a colony, even when the territory was under British colonial rule. That narrative — which rejects how the British saw their relationship to the city — will be explicitly taught to Hong Kong high school students through new textbooks that will be rolled out in the autumn.

The dispute over whether Hong Kong was a colony centres on the question of what should happen when the coloniser gives up control. In the 19th century, Britain took over what is now modern-day Hong Kong via two wars and a series of treaties that the Chinese government called unequal and coerced.

In 1946, the United Nations included Hong Kong on a list of “non-self-governing territories”, and in a 1960 resolution said the people there should be granted “the right to self-determination”. After Beijing took over China’s seat in the UN in 1971, it successfully pushed to remove Hong Kong from the list, arguing that it was within China’s sovereign right to decide Hong Kong’s future.

“Beijing never recognised that China had given up her sovereignty over Hong Kong, that British rule in Hong Kong had legitimacy and that 1997 is the time China resumed the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong,” said Lau Siu-kai, a senior adviser to Beijing on Hong Kong policy.

He added, “Beijing only admits that Britain had imposed ‘colonial rule’ on Hong Kong. Textbooks, of course, have to reflect Beijing’s position.”

The textbook material appears to be the linchpin of a revamped secondary school civics course that Beijing had repeatedly blamed for radicalising Hong Kong’s students. The course, known in years past as liberal studies, used to emphasise critical thinking and taught students to be objective and analytical. Some teachers discussed democracy, civil rights and even the Tiananmen Square massacre as part of their lesson plans. The older curriculum, which was developed in 2007 and periodically updated, did not appear to address the circumstances that led to Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule.

The new course, which was renamed Citizenship and Social Development last year, 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 the national security law.

The schoolbooks are part of a wider campaign to overhaul Hong Kong’s schools, “protect young minds” and raise loyal, patriotic citizens with a stronger Chinese identity.

Hong Kong education authorities recently released a music video of My Motherland and I, a song performed by musicians from 11 elite secondary schools. The footage included scenes of students playing Chinese and western orchestral instruments and singing in Mandarin Chinese, the language spoken on the mainland, and not Cantonese, the dominant language of the city.

“My motherland and I cannot be separated, not even for a moment,” they sang. — This article originally appeared in The New York Times.