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.
Class boycotts threatened in fight against national education
Fight against national lessons to be stepped up as Chief Executive ignores a deadline to talk to protest leaders
Dennis Chong, Lo Wei and Simpson Cheung
Activists opposed to the introduction of national education in schools have vowed to besiege the government headquarters indefinitely until authorities withdraw the subject.
The "Occupy Tamar" protest went into its fifth day on the first day of school yesterday, with an estimated 8,000 black-clad protesters taking part in a rally.
Leaders said they planned to step up their action to include class boycotts. But Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the debate should not just be about whether the subject - condemned by opponents as "brainwashing" - should be withdrawn.
She said it should be about ways of "nurturing our next generation to have the right attitude and know about the country". But she said there was a need to avoid "brainwashing".
Lam was speaking outside the headquarters in Admiralty 90 minutes after Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying ignored a 5pm deadline protesters set for him to meet them, which they later extended to 7pm.
Professional Teachers' Union vice-president Wong Hak-lim, one of the protesters, said Leung had "departed from Hong Kong interests to woo Beijing".
He said opponents would "seriously plan and organise a disobedience movement, including boycotting classes".
"We will sit out here and more should join us," said Joshua Wong, 15, a founder of the Scholarism group of student activists. Hunger strikers at the site also said they would continue indefinitely after three more joined them, bringing the total to 13.
But one, Dr Ho Chi-kwan, 60, a retired Polytechnic University associate professor, was taken to Ruttonjee Hospital by ambulance at 10.20pm on a doctor's advice after fasting for 48 hours. She was given a standing ovation as she left the site.
Tiananmen Square dissident Wang Dan tweeted from Taiwan that he would stage a 24-hour hunger strike in Hsinchu to show support for the campaign.
The protests spilled to other areas, particularly outside primary schools that will launch national education this year. Some teachers wore black clothes and students wore black armbands.
City University social science lecturer Jonathan London, among the Tamar protesters, said: "Students should not be taught what to think. I am excited that young people stood up for this very important cause."
Earlier, Lam rejected rumours she planned to order police to clear the protest site. She said on RTHK that "not for a single minute did the idea of site-clearing appear in our minds". The Education Bureau denied it "pressurised" schools but admitted officials had called schools over the introduction of the subject.
More than 150 protesters said they planned to stay at the government offices overnight.