Thousands Protest China’s Plans for Hong Kong Schools

HONG KONG — Thousands of people took to the streets Sunday to protest the introduction of Chinese national education in Hong Kong schools, a day after the city’s education minister warned that such demonstrations would not stop or delay the process.

Victoria Park, the traditional starting point for the city’s frequent mass protests, was a sea of umbrellas as parents shielded their children from the subtropical sun. There have been at least two demonstrations since June: Hong Kong’s annual vigil for the victims of the 1989 crackdown, and a protest on the 15th anniversary of the former British colony’s handover to Chinese rule. The latter coincided with the swearing-in of Hong Kong’s new Beijing-backed leader, Leung Chun-ying, on July 1.

The crowd Sunday, including many young families, blocked off large parts of the Causeway Bay commercial area as it inched toward the new government headquarters in the city center. Many felt that the changes were rushed through without public consultation.

While organizers told Hong Kong’s public broadcaster, RTHK, that 90,000 took part in the protest, the police put the figure at 19,000.

The new curriculum would be similar to the so-called patriotic education taught in mainland China. The materials, including a handbook called “The China Model,” describe the Communist Party as “progressive, selfless and united” and criticize multiparty systems, even though Hong Kong itself has multiple political parties.

Critics liken the curriculum to brainwashing and say that it glosses over major events like the Cultural Revolution and the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. It will be introduced into some primary schools in September and be mandatory for all public schools by 2016.

Talks between the education minister, Eddie Ng, and the National Education Parents’ Concern Group fell apart Saturday. Mr. Ng later denied that the curriculum was brainwashing.

One demonstrator, Elaine Yau, who was there with her 7-year-old daughter, said Sunday that people want a say in what is taught in the schools. “We feel like we have no choice,” she said.

One point of contention is that many of the city’s governing elite send their children to the West or to expensive international schools, which will be exempt from the national education. The subject will be mandatory for the public schools used by most of the working and middle classes.

“Not everyone can afford to send their children overseas or to international school,” Ms. Yau added.

Holding up a banner for the teachers union was Claudia Yip, a law student at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “Young children really listen to and believe what their teachers say to them,” she said. “Their early role models affect them greatly. Some people say we must have national education, but what kind do we need?”

Before the protest, Jiang Yudui of the China Civic Education Promotion Association of Hong Kong added fuel to the fire when he told the Hong Kong public that the curriculum should “wash their brains.”

“A brain needs washing if there is a problem, just as clothes need washing if they’re dirty and a kidney needs washing if it’s sick,” he said, according to the local media.

In response, protesters waved flags showing a cartoon brain with a line crossed through it. “No thought control! Preserve one country, two systems!” they chanted, referring to the agreement that gives Hong Kong political rights that are not allowed on the mainland.

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