Pro-democracy party Demosisto said on Friday that a number of Hong Kong textbooks contained biased information, with one being published by a company reportedly backed by the Beijing’s office in Hong Kong.

Demosisto members and lawmaker Au Nok-hin showed samples of textbooks for liberal studies, general studies and Chinese history. They said that the textbooks had an effect similar to imposing patriotic education, and urged the government to increase transparency in the approval process.

Au Nok-hin and Demosisto members. Photo: Facebook screenshot.

“When describing history, the choice of words is very important,” Au said, referring to controversies over history textbooks in recent months. “It is crucial to establish public credibility in the process of approving textbooks.”

The group criticised a liberal studies textbook, published by Hong Kong Educational Publishing Company, that included a discussion on the 2014 Occupy Central movement. The discussion featured five characters, four of whom opposed civil disobedience.

A textbook graphic on Chinese identity. Photo: Demosisto handout.

RTHK previously reported that Hong Kong Educational Publishing was indirectly controlled by the China Liaison Office.

The group also criticised a Chinese history textbook for describing the May Fourth Movement of 1919 as demonstrating a “patriotic spirit,” instead of highlighting its progressive political platform.

Other Chinese history books, including ones meant for primary school students, also described Hong Kong’s colonial era as the “British occupation,” and omitted details of the Chinese civil war.

A textbook graphic that describes China as being “bullied” by foreign powers. Photo: Demosisto handout.

Racial and ethnic identity was also another issue, as some of the textbooks appeared to support a nationalistic Chinese identity, the group said.

Demosisto member Cheng Ka-long said the textbooks showed pro-China sentiments and constituted “brainwashing.”

“The China Liaison Office publishing these biassed textbooks is a clear form of propaganda, and is contrary to Article 22 of the Basic Law,” Cheng said. “Therefore Demosisto asks that [the publishers] retract and amend the relevant sections, and the Liaison Office stop all interference in Hong Kong education.”

Au said the approval board for textbooks should involve experienced teachers, and the list of members should be made public. Textbooks could be reviewed using a partly anonymous process similar to peer review, he said.

Two versions of a Chinese history textbook, with a difference in how the Chinese civil war was described. Photo: Demosisto handout.

HKFP has reached out to Hong Kong Educational Publishing, Marshall Cavendish and Modern Educational Research Society for comment.

In June, it was reported that a review panel rejected certain phrases in a history textbook as “inappropriate wording.” Offending terms included “The transfer of Hong Kong’s sovereignty to mainland China” and “China recovered Hong Kong.”

Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.