21 October 2018
Hong Kong's Education Secretary Kevin Young says some ‘relatively less important’ incidents are being omitted in the revised Chinese history curriculum for secondary school students. Photo: RTHK
Hong Kong's Education Secretary Kevin Young says some ‘relatively less important’ incidents are being omitted in the revised Chinese history curriculum for secondary school students. Photo: RTHK

Are 1967 riots, 1989 Beijing events ‘less important’ in history?

Hong Kong authorities have sparked a new controversy as they proposed for secondary school students a revised Chinese history curriculum that excludes topics deemed uncomfortable for China.

According to a draft document unveiled on Monday, Hong Kong’s 1967 leftist riots and Beijing’s 1989 Tiananmen crackdown won’t figure in the new Chinese history syllabus for junior secondary pupils.

Senior officials from the education department sought to justify the move, suggesting that the two events were not deemed significant enough to be included in the curriculum.

The syllabus is aimed at providing a framework on key events in China’s 5,000-year history, which means that relatively minor happenings would be excluded, officials said.

The explanation, not surprisingly, has failed to convince many parents and independent observers.

Can the 1967 riots, which saw Hong Kong suffer month-long unrest as leftists took on the British colonial administration, and the June 4, 1989 crackdown in Beijing, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of democracy campaigners, be really deemed historically less significant events?   

It’s bizarre, to say the least, and authorities are mistaken if they think their arguments will wash.

What is clear that they are playing a game under Beijing’s instructions, trying to offer a sanitized version of Chinese history and glossing over inconvenient truths.

On Monday, the government launched the second stage of a consultation exercise on a revised history curriculum for form one to form three students in secondary schools.

The aim is to make the compulsory subject more interesting for students, and to help the pupils develop a greater sense of belonging to the country, officials said.

Asked why two major events, the 1967 riots in Hong Kong and the 1989 crackdown in Beijing, were missing from the proposed curriculum, Deputy Secretary for Education Hong Chan Tsui-wah said it’s impossible to go into details of every incident from the past.

Education Secretary Kevin Yeung, meanwhile, said some historical incidents may be “relatively less important” in the 5,000-year Chinese history, prompting their omission from the curriculum. 

“We hope that there will be a systematic way to present the 5,000 year history of our country. We should not get bogged down on just a couple of historical points,” Yeung told a Legislative Council panel meeting, urging lawmakers not to make a fuss about the new curriculum.

The official added that schools have always been free to teach students about sensitive events, and that authorities will consider adding the omitted topics into the curriculum if people have strong feelings on the issue, as per an RTHK report.

It remains to be seen if the syllabus will be modified following the storm of criticism, but one thing is clear as of now: the government is trying to ensure “patriotic education” through all means.

Chinese history is seen as a tool to promote patriotism among the youth, with pupils taught about “glorious” strides made by China, especially in the past six decades under the Communist Party rule.

This means that events such as the 1967 Hong Kong riots and the 1989 Beijing massacre, which paint the Communist rulers in bad light, should be brushed under the carpet. 

The government could have been at least honest in admitting its intentions, rather than offer the laughable explanation of omitting “relatively less important” events from the history syllabus. 

Offering a selective version of history is unfair to our school students and amounts to an indirect attempt at brainwashing the minds of young people. 

Hong Kong people used to believe that education affairs would be under the control of the local government. But now, it is apparent that Beijing is setting the agenda, instructing the administration to seek ways to further the cause of national education and promote patriotism among the youth.

While Beijing may not go into the details of the curriculum, one can assume that it is laying out the line for Hong Kong officials to follow.

China’s education minister Chen Baosheng suggested recently that shortcomings in education are to blame for the emergence of pro-independence forces in Hong Kong.

Patriotic education will promote Chinese identity among young people, he said, adding that the Hong Kong government has a duty to take steps in this regard.

Getting orders from Beijing, Hong Kong’s education officials have become puppets, reading out a script prepared by China.

There have been reports that Wang Zhimin, head of the central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong, invited school principals and teachers here recently to discuss issues related to the Chinese history curriculum.

It only shows that Beijing is stepping up efforts to intervene in Hong Kong’s education sector.

Chinese officials understand the sensitivity of the issue and are careful to stay behind the scenes as much as possible, letting Hong Kong officials do the talking.

Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam appointed a pro-Beijing educator Christine Choi as the No. 2 person in the education bureau, offering a clear signal that Beijing has its say in the SAR education policy.

With Chinese leaders pulling the strings from behind, it is no surprise that local officials are trying to dismiss even the 1967 riots and the 1989 Beijing massacre as minor historical events.

They are attempting to scrub school textbooks, but do the officials really think they can get people to stop talking about the dark chapters in modern Chinese history?

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EJ Insight writer

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