The culture chief of the central government's liaison office has called national education in schools 'necessary brainwashing' - suggesting the Hong Kong curriculum should be promoting the state's way of thinking.
Hao Tiechuan, director general of the department of publicity, cultural and sports affairs at Beijing's office in Hong Kong, said it was an internationally acceptable practice.
His comment follows last week's release of a proposal by the city's Education Bureau to begin teaching primary and secondary school pupils 'moral and national education'. Sceptics of the proposal warned that the curriculum could turn into political brainwashing.
On Sunday, Hao made public his views on the issue on his blog.
'Regarding the moral and national education in Hong Kong primary and secondary schools, some people say it amounts to 'brainwashing'. But if we look at such systems in Western countries like the United States and France, we will find this kind of 'necessary brainwashing' is an international convention.'
He also argued that it was common for universities, not schools, to nurture students' critical thinking.
'Some people say there is a need to help primary and secondary school pupils develop critical thinking. However, the usual practice in the international community is to nurture critical thinking in universities, not in primary and secondary schools,' he wrote. 'Some people say moral and national education should not follow the central government's line. But would that still be called national education?'
Lawmakers from both the Beijing-friendly and pan-democratic camps criticised Hao's comments.
Liberal Party chairwoman Miriam Lau Kin-yee, who is also a Hong Kong deputy to the National People's Congress, said it was wrong to call national education 'brainwashing'.
'National education nowadays is no longer about having students carry Mao Zedong's books and singing songs to praise Chairman Mao.' As for whether it was proper for Hao to make such comments, Lau said: 'He has his freedom to voice his views. I believe he has his own judgment.'
Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan said: 'It is stupid for him to use the word brainwashing.' He said the central government's method of handling dissidents and activists, such as the detention of artist Ai Weiwei, did little to convince Hong Kong to adopt the national education from Beijing's perspective.