Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung has said that China has always had sovereignty over Hong Kong, thus school textbooks should not describe the 1997 Handover as a transfer of, or taking back of, sovereignty.

His remarks came after broadcaster i-Cable found that a textbook review group at the Education Bureau had criticised phrases in textbooks, saying that they used inappropriate wording or unclear concepts.

Problematic phrases included: “Hong Kong is located at China’s southern side,” “Chinese Communist Party’s one-party rule” and “China insisted on taking Hong Kong’s sovereignty.”

Kevin Yeung. Photo: GovHK.

At a special finance committee meeting at the legislature, Yeung was asked by Civic Party lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki about why were such phrases had been widely used in the past without issue.

Yeung said in response that China had resumed exercising sovereignty: “It has never given up the sovereignty.”

“The United Nations also accepted that Hong Kong and Macau were not colonies. Factually and historically, Hong Kong’s sovereignty was in the country’s hands. There was no such issue of transfers of sovereignty, or taking back of sovereignty.”

Photo: GovHK.

Yeung also said that the standard acceptable wording in a textbook has to be reviewed within context.

“I am only saying that if we just look at this sentence [on sovereignty], I personally think it is problematic,” he said.

Political map

Regarding the sentence “Hong Kong is located at China’s southern side,” Yeung said: “It is unclear, as there could be different interpretations from the wording.”

“It could mean the southern side outside China, it could mean the southern side within China’s borders – this is unclear from the wording, so it has to be changed,” he said.

Chinese history textbooks. Photo: In-Media.

Democratic Party lawmaker Ted Hui said Yeung was conducting political censorship of textbooks.

“When textbooks mention Hong Kong is located at China’s southern side, they are explaining the geographical location, but the secretary has looked at it from a political perspective,” he said.

“He said Hong Kong was never a colony – is he holding the country, the Communist Party’s view that the inglorious history of Hong Kong should be erased?”

Yeung said that he would not participate in the work of the bureau’s review group.

The group’s formation is not public. It has official members, as well as volunteer members from outside the government, including school principals, teachers and scholars.

“When they conduct reviews, they would not know which publisher it is – and the publisher would not know who the reviewers are, in order to avoid any transfer of interests or conflicts of interests,” Yeung said.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.