Chief Executive Carrie Lam has dismissed accusations of a political intervention over a government plan to invalidate a “biased” history exam paper question, saying it was a “professional error.”

The controversy surrounds a question in the history paper of this year’s Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) exam that asked candidates whether they agreed with the view that Japan did more good than harm to China from 1900-45. Students were asked to answer using their own knowledge and two sources provided.

The Education Bureau has requested the local exam body scrap marks for the question, which its principal official Kevin Yeung labelled “leading and biased.”

Speaking before the weekly Executive Council meeting on Tuesday, Lam said the incident was a misjudgement on the part of the exam writer: “Our commitment to education doesn’t mean just pumping money into it, we need to defend the goal and quality of education.”

Chief Executive Carrie Lam meets the press before her weekly Executive Council meeting on May 19, 2020. Photo: inmediahk.net via CC 2.0.

“Until now I haven’t interfered in this matter. I haven’t told what the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority. I haven’t exercised to the power conferred to the chief executive by the HKEAA Ordinance.”

The city’s leader added that she would not shy away from exercising the powers granted to the chief executive by the ordinance in the future.

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

Lam then quoted South Africa’s late president Nelson Mandela as saying “The collapse of education is a collapse of a nation.” However, there is no evidence online to show that the anti-apartheid revolutionary ever uttered the phrase. Political science academic Simon Shen has also suggested it was a misquote.

When asked by an HKFP reporter about the appropriateness of quoting a freedom fighter in the context of restricting a politically-sensitive question, the chief executive doubled down on her choice of words: “I thought I have the liberty to quote distinguished people in impressing upon people of Hong Kong how much importance we attach to education because if education is done wrongly, it damages and severe consequences are really beyond imagination.”

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Jennifer Creery

Jennifer Creery is a Hong Kong-born British journalist, interested in minority rights and urban planning. She holds a BA in English at King's College London and has studied Mandarin at National Taiwan University.