All schools in Hong Kong will be given a 48-volume box set of mainland-produced picture books entitled “My Home is in China” in an attempt to foster a sense of patriotism in students, Hong Kong’s Secretary for Education has said.

My Home is in China 2
My Home is in China. Photo: CNS Screenshot via Youtube.

The publisher is owned by the Chinese government through subsidiaries and the box set first appeared on the mainland in 2016. It will be republished this year in the traditional Chinese characters used in Hong Kong for an edition specially designed for the city’s students.

In a circular to all heads of local schools on Monday, the Education Bureau (EDB) announced that it will provide two sets of the books to each primary school and one set to each secondary and special school.

“The series can serve… as support materials for promoting Chinese history and culture education,” the circular read. “Schools can make reference to the related curriculum resources developed and compiled by the EDB to prepare learning and teaching materials and nation and national identity.”

The circular included a list of close to 100 books on Chinese traditional culture and identity.

Kevin Yeung
Kevin Yeung. File photo: RTHK screenshot.

“Hong Kong is an inseparable part of China, so every Hongkonger is a citizen of this country. Every Hongkonger should in fact love the country and love Hong Kong,” Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung told state media China News Service during a video interview on Sunday, where he showcased the series.

In an attempt to foster a sense of patriotism in young Hongkongers, “we have [promoted important values] through teaching materials, such as the Constitution, the Basic Law or the National Security Law. We have also created supplementary teaching materials for other school subjects for teachers to use and facilitate their teaching,” Yeung said.

My Home is in China 3
My Home is in China, 2016 version. Photo: Amazon.

The set contains 48 books on six themes: Chinese cities, festivals, lakes and seas, ethnic groups, mountains and rivers and roads. It has also been published in English, Russian and Laotian while a Spanish version was in the works, publisher Guangdong Education Publishing House announced in a 2018 article.

State-owned publisher

Guangdong Education Publishing House is fully owned by a mainland company called Southern Publishing and Media (SPM). The Guangdong Provincial Publishing Group owns 99 per cent of SPM. The Group, in turn, is fully owned by the Guangdong provincial government, company records reviewed by HKFP show.

Publishing the box set in several languages was part of the company’s effort to support China’s “go global” strategy — a national campaign to increase the country’s cultural influence overseas — the head of the publishing firm said at the time.

The box set’s traditional Chinese version was published in Macau, where it was introduced during a ceremonial event in 2017, in the presence of officials from the China Liaison Office in Macau and from Guangdong province.

HKPTU president Fung Wai-wah
HKPTU president Fung Wai-wah. Photo: WikiMedia

There are fears among some that tuition in Hong Kong schools is becoming more politicised after mainland officials called for efforts to foster a sense of patriotism.

“I don’t think it would be a problem [to use these books] as reference, but to say the [EDB] will distribute them to every school in such a high-profile manner… schools may feel the pressure to include them as reference material used in teaching,” the president of the Professional Teachers Union, Fung Wai-wah, told HKFP.

“Usually, the editorial and procurement process for Hong Kong textbooks is quite strict, so it’s quite unusual for the EDB to publicly promote one particular set of books,” Fung said. The box set did not seem to be necessary since local schools already have access to a range of similar national education materials, he said.

“I also don’t think it makes a difference whether the publisher is state-owned, because even private publishing houses in the mainland are directly or indirectly subject to official control,” Fung said.

In a response to HKFP’s enquiry, an EDB spokesperson said in a statement that the books’ copyright was exclusively held by Chung Hwa Book Company (HK) in Hong Kong.

However, the company is owned by the China’s top office in Hong Kong via Sino United Publishing Limited, which owns most of Hong Kong’s Chinese book chains.

The set can be used “as resource materials for promoting Chinese history and culture education in schools. It would be a waste if the schools do not keep it in the school library for facilitating more students to learn,” the spokesperson said.

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.