Hong Kong’s secondary school students will be taught to cherish Chinese culture and help safeguard China’s economic stability under new curriculum guidelines which emphasise national security.

The guidelines from the Education Bureau (EDB) were released as the city’s education chief repeated warnings that teachers promoting personal political views in classrooms risk being disqualified for life.

Photo: GovHK.

The bureau on Wednesday released four new national security secondary school curriculum frameworks, detailing changes to Economics, Chinese History, General History and Social Studies.

The new history curriculum in lower and upper secondary schools will teach students about Hong Kong’s historic ties with the mainland and the fact that China, including Hong Kong, was invaded by foreign forces in the past.

“The course also allows students to clearly understand that the country has been invaded by foreign powers, so that the British occupied Hong Kong,” the framework reads.

Protesters waving the colonial flag in front of the China Liaison Office. File photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Hong Kong island was ceded to the British in 1842 after the Qing dynasty’s defeat in the First Opium War. The colony was returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

The course will also help students learn to “cherish and inherit the precious assets of Chinese culture… so as to strengthen students’ sense of mission and responsibility towards the nation.” The curriculum also suggested teaching “patriotic songs” from the Sino-Japanese war of 1937-45.

The new curriculum will include exchanges with mainland China “to cultivate students’ concept of the state, national identity and sense of responsibility to our country and our people,” according to the overall framework for the city’s national security education released earlier in May.

A secondary teacher holding an online zoom lesson in an empty classroom. File photo: May James/HKFP.

One history teacher told HKFP the changes leave no room for class discussion and mean students will no longer be able to think for themselves.

“When we talk about historical events, we would let our students discuss certain controversial issues. But in this framework, the government would want us to tell one-sided stories to students,” said Cheung Wong, who has taught the subject for seven years.

“According to the curriculum, there may be some sample answers for particular events,” he added. “So that is not true history education.”

Economic co-dependence

Hong Kong’s plans for national security education include teaching children from the age of six upwards about the four acts criminalised by the security law imposed by Beijing last June: secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces, and terrorist acts, which are broadly defined to include interference with public transport.

The changes in the secondary school economics curriculum emphasise the importance of maintaining the economic security of both Hong Kong and mainland China, and the “interdependence” between the two.

SKH St James’ Primary School on National Security Education Day. Photo: GovHK.

“The economics course allows students to study related topics to understand the importance of maintaining economic security to economic development, national economy and people’s livelihoods, and recognise the interdependence of Hong Kong and the country,” the guideline reads.

Students will be taught that Hong Kong has a duty to safeguard China’s overall economic stability. “The state attaches importance to and supports Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability, and Hong Kong also has the responsibility to maintain the state’s economic security,” it says.

File photo: Demosisto.

The bureau has issued a total of 15 national security education frameworks covering subjects ranging from Chinese-language classes at primary schools to IT classes at upper secondary schools.

Responding to questions about the bureau’s new curricula at a press conference on Thursday, president of the pro-democracy Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union Fung Wai-wah said the bureau was “rushing” the changes, which seemed “overly broad.”

‘Professional Autonomy’

Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung on Wednesday called on teachers to follow the bureau’s frameworks and warned them against expressing personal political views.

“I wish to stress that ‘professional autonomy’ does not mean indulgence without limits,” the secretary told the Legislative Council.

Kevin Yeung attends a briefing on the electoral overhaul on April 7, 2021. File photo: GovHK.

“Teaching and assessment must be in line with the curriculum framework and related requirements,” Yeung said. “Under no circumstances should teachers promote personal political views to students, disseminate inaccurate information, biased views or distorted facts to mislead students, or spread hatred or discriminatory messages or messages that go against social morality.”

The bureau will consider deregistering teachers “for serious cases,” the secretary warned.

Beijing depicts the national security law as a response to months of pro-democracy protests and unrest in 2019 that saw many students take to the streets. Around 40 per cent of the 10,250 people arrested in connection with the protests were students.

Teacher unions have accused authorities of “scapegoating” the city’s teachers over the protests and creating an atmosphere of “white terror” in the profession.

At least three teachers have been disqualified for life over their connection with the demonstrations, while a survey conducted by the city’s largest teacher’s union in early May showed two out of five teachers are considering leaving the city.

Rhoda Kwan

Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.