Hong Kong’s education authorities have said the screening of graphic clips to pupils to mark the anniversary of the 1937 Nanjing massacre is not compulsory after parents complained that children as young as six were being subjected to violent imagery at a primary school.

PLK HKTA Yuen Yuen Primary School. Photo: PLK HKTA Yuen Yuen Primary School.

A five-minute long clip from an RTHK documentary was shown to Primary One pupils at the PLK HKTA Yuen Yuen Primary School on last Thursday.

The show included 50 seconds of graphic scenes of rampaging Japanese soldiers, civilians being shot, and individuals being buried alive with children lying dead on streets.

After the screening, an education-related Facebook page named “Read, write and seek” said it had received complaints from parents. It said that some students were frightened and cried when viewing the video.

China estimates that more than 300,000 people died in the six-week slaughter by the Imperial Japanese Army. The mass murder, rape and looting began on December 13, 1937 and continues to be a contentious issue in relations between Beijing and Tokyo.

‘Extremely brutal’

Ting Kin Wa, a candidate in the education sector for Sunday’s “patriots only” legislative election, said on Facebook on Saturday he had also received multiple reactions from teachers and parents. He said that students became emotionally unstable after attending the screening.

“Why did they kill the baby?,” one student asked his mother, according to Ting. He said the footage was “extremely brutal,” as he urged the Education Bureau to review the material.

On Saturday, the school issued a notice to all parents saying the material was provided by the education authorities. The school said that “the intention was to let children understand and treasure the importance of peace from history.”

There would be a special timeslot for class teachers to reassure the students on Monday, the notice added. Emotional counselling would also be offered to any students in need.

Protests commemorating Nanjing massacre on Monday, December 13, File Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

 “We know that national education is vital – however, we should consider children’s feelings,” the statement said, stopping short of a apology.

In response to HKFP’s enquiries on Monday, the school said it would take more care: “The school will pay extra attention and appropriately adjust teaching material to the conditions of different classes in the future… We will take more care with student’s emotions when helping them understand historical events.”

‘History is history’

On Sunday, the Education Bureau said that it was not compulsory for schools to screen the government-supplied footage “indiscriminately to all classes”, though it defended the commemoration of the event.

“History is history, it cannot be avoided,” said the Education Bureau. “[W]ar is cruel in nature. We must learn from history to treasure peace, respect life, forgive others and love our nation.”

“When using videos or images of the war, teachers should use their professional judgment and guide students adequately,” the government body told the city’s education force.

The Education Bureau. File photo: GovHK.

The city’s education authorities have been calling for increased efforts to promote patriotism in schools. Schools were told to help students develop “a sense of national identity and a sense of commitment towards the nation”.

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Peter Lee

Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.