The Hong Kong government has sought since 2007 to introduce "national education" courses into primary and secondary school curriculum, aimed at strengthening students' "national identity awareness" and nurturing patriotism towards China. The programme has met with increasing public opposition in recent years, with many in Hong Kong seeing it as a brainwashing attempt by the Chinese Communist Party to suppress dissent.
National education hunger strikers issue deadline
Activists say they will continue their protest indefinitely if national education not axed today
Activists camped outside the government offices in Admiralty to protest against the national education programme have vowed to continue their hunger strike indefinitely if the authorities refuse to abandon it by 5pm today.
But the chief executive showed no sign of giving in to the ultimatum.
While 10 students and educationalists continued a hunger strike started on Thursday by three teenage activists, and former students of elite schools launched online petitions, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying restated that the government had "no motive" to brainwash pupils. "No matter which way people chose to express their opinions, they should act rationally and exchange views with one another," he said.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said in a radio programme the project did not "erupt out of a piece of rock all of a sudden, [as] all school organisations were informed". She called the hunger strike a "radical" act.
The three-year "introductory period" of the subject begins today as students return to classes for the new school year. Detractors say they fear the subject would be an attempt to indoctrinate students with blind patriotism. According to the government's plans, the curriculum will be compulsory in primary schools from 2015 and in secondary schools from 2016.
Led by the secondary pupil group Scholarism, activists have camped outside the government offices at Tamar since Thursday. A demonstration on Friday was followed by an evening rally on Saturday.
A stream of well-wishers through the day paid their respects to the 10 hunger strikers, who vowed to extend their fast "indefinitely" unless authorities shelved the subject.
Hungry and tired, Linda Wong Sui-hung, who is also a barrister, made a counter-suggestion to the administration. "What if the government organised a rally for those who support the curriculum? I'd like to see how many would show up," said Wong, a spokeswoman for the Parents' Concern Group on National Education.
Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Scholarism's lead activist, like dozens of his followers, begins classes as a fifth-former today but will return to the demonstration after school.
Meanwhile, former pupils from several of the city's top schools are said to have collected thousands of signatures demanding the government put its plans on hold. An online petition organised by former pupils of Diocesan Boys' School submitted 330 signatories by early last night.
Other petitions were organised by graduates of Diocesan Girls' School, St Mary's Canossian College and SKH Lam Woo Memorial Secondary School.
At the City Forum yesterday, Professional Teachers' Union education research director Cheung Yui-fai called on teachers to dress in black today to express their objection.