The Education Bureau has requested that the local exam body scrap a question in the history paper of this year’s Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) exam. It claimed the question about Sino-Japanese history was “leading and biased.”

In the history exam that took place on Thursday, candidates were asked whether they agreed with the statement “Japan did more good than harm to China in the period of 1900-45.” They had to answer the question using their own knowledge and reference to two sources provided, which mentioned Chinese students studying in Japan and Japan’s loan to the republican government of the time.

Kevin Yeung
Kevin Yeung. File photo: RTHK screenshot.

At a press conference on Friday, Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung said information attached to the question was “one-sided” and only focused on Japan’s assistance to China. He said the question was therefore considered “leading,” and it was highly possible that students would come to a “biased conclusion” when citing the provided sources.

“It deviated from comprehensive and objective historical fact. It could not reflect students’ knowledge and [students] may not get a fair assessment,” he said.

The exam paper.

Yeung added it was widely known that Japan launched attacks on China in the 1930s and caused tens of thousands of deaths, saying the exam question would hurt the feelings of Chinese people.

The bureau will request that the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority (HKEAA) invalidate the question concerned, as well as make appropriate adjustments to ensure the credibility and effectiveness of the history exam.

Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination DSE
Students taking Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination (DSE). Photo: HKEAA.

Education Bureau personnel will also visit the HKEAA next Monday to investigate the setting, vetting and approval mechanism for the question under the DSE. They will review whether the mechanism was strictly complied ith during the preparation of the history paper.


The move came after the bureau expressed “deep regret” and condemned the exam question design in a late-night statement on Thursday. Earlier that day, state media including the Ta Kung Pao, Wen Wei Po and Global Times lambasted the question as encouraging students to be “traitors” and criticised some staffers of the HKEAA as unfit for setting exam questions, citing their social media posts in support of the anti-extradition bill movement.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry commissioner’s office in Hong Kong also wrote on Facebook that Hong Kong education could not become a “doorless chicken coop” without regulation, echoing Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s comment on Monday.

The HKEAA issued a statement on Friday morning before Yeung’s announcement. The exam body said they would handle the controversy seriously and expressed deep regrets over the potential harm caused to those who suffered great pain during the Japanese invasion.

civic square
Student-led protests against national education legislation at the Civic Square in 2012. File Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Isaac Cheng, vice-chair of pro-democracy group Demosisto, slammed the bureau’s move as political suppression and “blatantly pressuring” the HKEAA to self-censor. He questioned whether the university entrance exam would only be left with “politically correct” questions and answers, and whether students would only know how to recite official answers in the future.

“Why is the Education Bureau can only see the point about insulting Chinese? Why is it that educators who handle things with professionalism are always wrong?” Cheng asked.

“When [the Education Bureau] encounters political issues, they just throw students’ interests away and cancel the exam question to manifest their political loyalty,” he added.

The Second Sino-Japanese War occurred between 1937 and 1945 and caused millions of deaths in China. Japan has been heavily condemned over its war crimes, particularly over the Nanjing Massacre in which their military killed more than 200,000 Chinese civilians and perpetrated mass rape during December 1937 to January 1938.

Ho Long Sze Kelly is a Hong Kong-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, human rights, social welfare and education. As a Senior Reporter at Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic extensively, as well as documented the transformation of her home city under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Kelly has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration. Prior to joining HKFP in 2020, she was on the frontlines covering the 2019 citywide unrest for South China Morning Post’s Young Post. She also covered sports and youth-related issues.