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 protest builds as hunger striker marks 108th hour
Stuart Lau and Lai Ying-kit
A 63-year-old hunger striker passed the 108-hour mark on Thursday morning, as support for the movement against national education grew.
James Hon Lin-shan, of the Professional Teachers’ Union, said he was feeling all right as his fast reached 108 hours at 10.30am. Medical check-ups show his blood sugar, blood pressure and weight levels are all acceptable, he said: “I’m healthier than a healthy person.” Six other protesters are also on a hunger strike outside government headquarters in Admiralty.
Hon’s manner was spirited. Up to nine more people were expected to join the hunger strike on Thursday afternoon.
Tertiary students also lent their support to protesters by planning to boycott classes next Tuesday.
An estimated 1,000 students from 10 institutions will kick-off their action with a gathering at the University Mall plaza at the Chinese University on September 11. They plan to pledge their support for class boycotts, in lower schools, against national education.
Samuel Li Shing-hong, general-secretary of the Federation of Students, which organised the protest, said they would continue to boycott classes until the government withdrew the programme.
Li said they had to step up their action because the government had refused to listen to opponents’ calls after a series of protests and a continuing hunger strike.
“We have had a 90,000-strong march, a 40,000-person gathering, hunger strikes, and the siege of the government headquarters by thousands of people. But the government has remained indifferent to our views,” he said. “We are very angry.”
Li demanded the government withdraw the course immediately, saying the subject was “fundamentally problematic”.
He said 100 student unions from 10 tertiary institutions would take part in the boycott. At the September 11 gathering, student leaders and academics will share their views on national education.
(SCMP video by Hedy Bok)
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying had a day earlier cancelled his trip to a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum, in Russia, just hours ahead of his scheduled departure – to deal with pressing domestic issues including the national education controversy.
He did not visit the protesters on Thursday morning, noted Hon, adding: “Wherever Leung goes doesn’t matter to me. But he should respond to our demands.”
Meanwhile, the protest against national education took a new direction on Thursday when the radical group People Power added its support by threatening a legislative filibuster.
The group vowed to delay the passage of all government bills – except those relating to social livelihood – if the controversial course was not scrapped by the time the new Legislative Council term begins.
Several rolling polls have predicted that People Power will add more seats, in Sunday’s election, to the two it currently holds.
Also on Thursday, China’s Education Minister Yuan Guiren said in Beijing that he had noted the Hong Kong government’s stance on national education, and that there was room for negotiations on its implementation.
He said every country and region should have its own national education, because citizens of all nations should learn such information.
“The content of a national education course should be decided in accordance with the settings of the country or region concerned,” he said.
The number of protesters dropped on Thursday morning, as usual, when many left to attend school or work. About 10,000 people joined the demonstrators at the Tamar square on each of the two previous nights, organisers said.
Protesters have laid siege to the government headquarters at the Tamar site since last Thursday.