Hong Kong schools must play the national anthem whilst displaying the regional and national flags during some celebration activities, according to newly-issued government guidelines.

The directives came weeks after the legislature passed controversial legislation criminalising mockery of March of the Volunteers on June 4, despite months of stalemate as opposition lawmakers tried to choke the passage of the bill.

Photo: GovHK.

Offenders found guilty of deliberately altering the anthem risk fines of up to HK$50,000 or three years in prison. The law – signed and promulgated by Chief Executive Carrie Lam on June 11 – has alarmed democrats who fear the continued erosion of freedom of expression in the city.

The routine flag-raising ceremonies have come under public scrutiny in recent years, with fewer than half of schools polled by the Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers taking part last October 1 to mark 70 years since the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Hong Kong saw citywide clashes that day as pro-democracy protesters attempted to thwart daily operations as part of a mass strike.

‘Stand solemnly’

In a circular shared on Thursday, the Education Bureau wrote that primary and secondary school teachers and students should “stand solemnly and deport themselves with dignity” throughout celebrations.

“[They should] observe the relevant etiquette while the national anthem is being played and sung to show their respect for the country and demonstrate their good quality as nationals,” it said.

However, the requirements are only mandatory if schools hold celebrations for New Year’s Day on January 1, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Establishment Day on July 1 and on National Day on October 1, the bureau told HKFP.

September 6 school strike protest extradition
Photo: Kevin Cheng/United Social Press.

During other events – such as on the first day of the academic year and graduation ceremonies – schools are “strongly” advised to follow the guidelines, the circular read.

“Schools should educate students about the national flag, the national anthem and the national emblem of their own country. This is part of moral, civic and national education, and helps enhance students’ sense of national identity.”

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.