The largest teachers’ union in Hong Kong has raised concerns over political censorship after six publishers revised content in eight sets of Liberal Studies textbooks following a voluntary screening conducted by the Education Bureau.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union (HKPTU) accused the authorities as using its “professional consultancy service” to censor schoolbooks. The programme allows publishers to submit textbooks to the Education Bureau on a voluntary basis. The books that are reviewed and amended can go on a “recommended book list” on the bureau’s website.

Liberal Studies textbooks. Photo: Apple Daily.

According to the union, some publishers said they removed explanations of the intentions behind civil disobedience acts “based on teaching needs.” Local media reported other amendments included deleting the phrase “separation of powers” and screening out a photo of a “Lennon Wall” covered with messages left by demonstrators during the city’s large-scale pro-democracy movement.

A publisher scrubbed a line that read: “Some political groups criticised the law enforcement methods by police in recent years for violating human rights and infringing upon Hong Kong residents’ freedom of assembly and protest.”

Local media also reported that some textbooks added “warnings” to chapters about civil disobedience, stating that participants must face legal consequences and abiding by the law is a civic responsibility.

Hong Kong secondary students hold a banner that features the protest slogan “Five demands, not one less.” Photo: Studio Incendo.

The HKPTU urged the Education Bureau to give an explanation for the textbook changes, saying that teachers had difficulty grasping what teaching materials would be deemed as suitable.

“This will only lead to more speculation and a bad phenomenon of self-censorship… the voluntary consultation service has become harsh political censorship, seriously undermining the aims and objectives of Liberal Studies,” the union wrote.

Introduced in 2009, Liberal Studies is one of the four core subjects included in the city’s university entrance examination. It aims to cultivate students’ critical thinking skills and enhance their social awareness.

Protesters throw tear gas canisters at the Tsim Sha Tsui police station on August 11, 2019. Photo: Studio Incendo.

Since last year’s anti-extradition bill movement, however, the subject has come under fire by pro-Beijing politicians and media, who blamed it for encouraging students to take part in the citywide demonstrations and unrest.

In May, Aristo Educational Press Limited, one of the publishers who revised its books, was lambasted by state-owned Wen Wei Po as supplying “poisonous information” to students. The newspaper claimed Aristo’s textbooks printed biased and false information, as well as “inciting” pro-independence sentiments.

Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung has rejected allegations of censorship, saying that their professional team – comprised of academics and subject inspectors – would only give feedback based on the aims and objectives of the Liberal Studies curriculum.

Kevin Yeung. File photo: Inmediahk.net., via CC 2.0.

“The team will provide feedback and advice without any political considerations,” Yeung said in a reply to questions raised by lawmaker Cheung Kwok-kwan last November.

In May, Chief Executive Carrie Lam told schools to guard against “infiltration” into subjects such as Liberal Studies. She pledged to announce ways to handle the controversial subject later this year.

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.