A Hong Kong primary school teacher who gave pupils a factually incorrect account of the Sino-British Opium War has been barred from the profession, the second educator in recent weeks to incur such a punishment.

The teacher involved in the latest case taught at Ho Lap Primary School, and told Primary Two students in an online class that Britain waged the First Opium War of 1839-42 in an attempt to destroy opium in China’s territories.

Ho Lap Primary School (Sponsored by Sik Sik Yuen)
Ho Lap Primary School (Sponsored by Sik Sik Yuen).

The opposite was the case: Britain sought to sell massive amounts of opium in China while Qing dynasty officials tried to ban it. The war led to the foundation of Hong Kong as a British colony and the start of what China calls a century of humiliation at the hands of foreign powers.

The Education Bureau said the teacher was seriously wrong and lacked competence as a teacher. It said the teacher did not mislead students on purpose, but should be de-registered due to the seriousness of the matter.

Education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen slammed the penalty as disproportionate and questioned whether it was made under pressure from pro-Beijing lawmakers.

“We think the teacher deserves a fair ruling and treatment,” he said. “We are enraged by how the Education Bureau easily chose the capital [most extreme] punishment. I believe many teachers are concerned about the serious consequences simply for saying a word or two wrong.”

ip kin yuen
Ip Kin-yuen meets the press. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Ip said the Education Bureau had not considered other punishments. The teacher in question had not been hired to teach the General Studies subject and had apologised for the mistake, as well as recording a correction on video.

The education sector lawmaker said the Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union had been following up on the case. The teacher in question had legal assistance and would appeal against the decision.

HK01 reported that the head of the General Studies subject at the school had been reprimanded for negligence in overseeing the teaching materials.

‘White terror’

Advocacy group Education Breakthrough, founded by activist Isaac Cheng, wrote in a Facebook post that the decision was intended to create “white terror”.

“The move is to warn teachers not to teach anything that is different from the government’s point of view. They intend to place everyone in the sector in insecurity, self-censor every word they say in class so as to avoid de-registration,” the group said.

In September, a General Studies teacher at Alliance Primary School was de-registered for serious professional misconduct after the teaching materials he designed were said to have disseminated pro-independence messages. He was the first teacher in the city to be de-registered for anything other than a criminal or sexual offence, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said previously.

The city’s leader warned that actions against “bad apples” would continue.

Her predecessor as chief executive, CY Leung, has urged the public to report teacher misconduct, particularly in relation to the pro-democracy protests and any crimes that may “endanger national security.”

January 1, 2020 protest
A pro-democracy march held on January 1, 2020. Photo: Studio Incendo.

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Cheung Kwok-kwan previously asked what measures the Education Bureau would adopt – after the enactment of the national security law – to strengthen its support for schools regarding resources and professional training of teachers.

The Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung in a written reply on Wednesday said they are looking into whether the requirement for all new civil servants joining the government after July 1 to swear allegiance to the city should apply to teachers in subsidised schools.

Out of 587 primary schools in Hong Kong, 34 are government schools and 442 are government-subsidised schools, whilst 420 among 504 secondary schools receive government subsidies and 31 are government schools, according to the bureau’s 2019-2020 statistics.

National security law
Photo: GovHK.

In June 2020, Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure. The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China. However, the authorities say it has restored stability and peace to the city.

Articles 9 and 10 of the law state that the government must promote national security education through schools, social groups, the media and the internet.

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Rachel Wong previously worked as a documentary producer and academic researcher. She has a BA in Comparative Literature and European Studies from the University of Hong Kong. She has contributed to A City Made by People and The Funambulist, and has an interest in cultural journalism and gender issues.