Hong Kong students and residents reject national-education classes, 2012

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Time Period:  
29 July
8 September
Location and Goals
Location City/State/Province: 
Hong Kong
To stop the integration of Chinese patriotism classes in Hong Kong schools

On 29 July 2012, thousands took to the streets after the Hong Kong government announced that by 2015 they would integrate mandatory national-education classes in Hong Kong’s public schools. The government’s plan would not affect international schools where rich families tend to send their children, but it would affect the education of children from the working and middle classes.

Students, teachers, and residents of Honk Kong saw this integration as way of “brainwashing” students and speeding up the integration of Hong Kong, a historically democratic district, into Communist mainland China. The proposed curriculum (similar to one used in mainland China) includes a book called “The China Model” that describes the Communist Party as “progressive, selfless, and united.” The book criticizes multiparty systems like that of Hong Kong. The book also glosses over the Tiananmen Protests and the Cultural Revolution.

Angered over this curriculum, approximately 90,000 people marched in July from Victoria Park to government headquarters. The protesters also blocked off parts of Causeway Bay, a major economic center. Protesters wielded banners and chanted, “No thought control! Preserve one country, two systems!”

A member from the China Civic Education Promotion Association of Hong Kong said that the curriculum should wash their brains. Communist Party-run papers also said that Hong Kong needed the new curriculum because they had already been brainwashed by Western thought.

On 30 August, three students started a three-day hunger strike, demanding the removal of the curriculum. The next day 70 parents, students, and educators met at Holy Cross Church to discuss the impending education reform plans.

The Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, the largest group of educators in HK with 90,000 members, planned a city-wide strike on 3 September, the start of the school term.

40,000 people (police reported 8,000) gathered outside the government headquarters in protest. A protester poured red paint over herself in a demonstration and many participated in a sit-in at the Tamar government headquarters in HK.

At the planned 3 September protest, approximately 8,000 protesters dressed in black gathered outside the government headquarters. Demonstrators chanted “No to brainwashing education! Withdraw national education!”

Some students began another hunger strike. Soon, 13 people had joined the fast. One hunger strike participant was taken to the hospital after 40 hours of fasting. Another fasted for over 112 hours. The Taiwanese Tiananmen activist Wang Dan also blogged that he would participate in a 24-hour hunger strike in solidarity with the campaigners.

The Civil Alliance Against National Education, a coalition of concern groups, planned to organize city-wide student strikes and teacher boycotts. Organizers inspired by the “Occupy” movement also told protesters to return to headquarters every evening.

On 8 September, Leung Chun-ying, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, gave in to demands and revoked the 2015 deadline for public schools to adopt the national-education curriculum. He decided to allow each school to decide for itself whether or not to teach the subject.

After Leung’s announcement, 100,000 protesters (27,500 reported by police), unsatisfied with the suspension and demanding a complete cancellation, gathered in another protest.

The campaign is deemed to end here on 8 September because although protests related to the education reform continued, they focused more on the structure of the Chinese government rather than the education reform. Most campaigners seemed satisfied with Leung’s decision and ended the protests on 8 September.

Research Notes

This campaign was inspired by the Tiananmen protests of 1989 (see, Chinese students campaign for democratic reform (Tiananmen Square), 1989)(1).

Lau, Joyce. “Thousands Protest China’s Plans for Hong Kong Schools.” New York Times. 29 July 2012. Web. 12 Oct. 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/30/world/asia/thousands-protest-chinas-curriculum-plans-for-hong-kong-schools.html>.

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Pomfret, James and Bobby Yip. “Hong Kong protests grow against China “brainwashing” in schools.” Rueters, Alert Net. 3 Sep. 2012. Web. 13 Oct. 2012. <http://www.trust.org/alertnet/news/hong-kong-protests-grow-against-china-brainwashing-in-schools>.

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Lai, Alexis. “Hong Kong school year starts with hunger strikes.” CNN. 4 Sep. 2012. Web. 12 Oct. 2012. <http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/04/world/asia/hong-kong-national-education-protests/index.html>.

Higgins, Andrew. “Protesters beseige Hong Kong plaza as crisis over ‘national education’ mounts.” Washington Post. 6 Sep. 2012. Web. 13 Oct. 2012. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/protesters-besiege-hong-kong-plaza-as-crisis-over-national-education-mounts/2012/09/06/cb2ff548-f80e-11e1-a93b-7185e3f88849_story.html>.

Bradsher, Keith. “Hong Kong Retreats on ‘National Education’ Plan.” New York Times. 8 Spet. 2012. Web. 12 Oct. 2012. <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/09/world/asia/amid-protest-hong-kong-backs-down-on-moral-education-plan.html>.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Iris Fang, 18/11/2012