National education in Hong Kong

No separate sections on Hong Kong for new history curriculum, education authority says

Supporters of move say it would help students better understand city’s national connections while critics fear important but controversial events may be conveniently left out

PUBLISHED : Friday, 25 May, 2018, 9:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 25 May, 2018, 10:23am

A new curriculum framework for teaching Chinese history at Hong Kong secondary schools was announced on Thursday – with no separate sections on the city’s past.

As reported on previous consultation drafts of the framework, there would also be no mention of contentious issues such as the June 4 protests or the 1967 riots.

The Education Bureau said the revised curriculum guidelines for Chinese history at junior secondary levels would be implemented progressively in Form One, starting from September 2020 at the earliest.

Compulsory Chinese history lessons to cover Hong Kong’s past

Josephine Lee Shuk-yin, senior curriculum development officer for personal, social and humanities education at the bureau, said one change from previous drafts was subsuming elements of Hong Kong’s development and cultural characteristics into nine topics of broader historical periods.

In previous drafts, Hong Kong’s history had its own designated subsections to help students understand the city’s connection with the country.

But Professor Leung Yuen-sang, chairman of the committee for revising the junior secondary Chinese history curriculum, said the time dedicated to teaching students about Hong Kong’s development remained the same as before – 10 per cent of the total lesson time across three years.

Hong Kong history should not be the most important part as it is a Chinese history curriculum
Professor Leung Yuen-sang

Leung added the change was motivated by opinions from teachers gathered during four years of review, including two consultation sessions.

“We did not consider whether this would make people feel Hong Kong history is more important or less so,” he said. “In any case, Hong Kong history should not be the most important part as it is a Chinese history curriculum.”

Leung, who is the dean of arts and a professor of history at Chinese University, said the new curriculum was already “Hongkongers’ Chinese history” as it contained more Hong Kong elements than Chinese history taught in other parts of the world.

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Lee Wai-hung, chairman of the Association of Chinese History Teachers, welcomed the move saying that it would help students understand Hong Kong’s national connections clearer.

Controversial topics such as the June 4 protests held since the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 were not included in the guide, despite dominating headlines during the last two consultations.

Leung explained the June 4 protests were an important part of the reform movement that had started in the 1970s and led to the surge in China’s economic strength, while stirring up social unrest.

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He said teachers could make use of the reform movement to discuss both the positive and negative effects of the reform movement, but he did not think there was a need to specifically include the protests in the guidelines.

Chen Yan-kai, a Chinese history teacher and deputy director of the Professional Teachers’ Union’s academic department, questioned why the guidelines focused on the period from 1950 to 1953, when addressing the early years of the People’s Republic of China.

Chinese history rule for schools revives concerns about national education

He said this could result in teachers opting to leave out important events such as the Anti-Rightist Campaign, which started in 1957, if they did not have enough time to complete the curriculum.

The campaign was to purge alleged “rightists” within the Communist Party of China and abroad, which saw the political persecution of an estimated 550,000 people.

Chen said the topic was covered in the current curriculum.

‘Teach about Hong Kong independence as you would about suicides’

Chinese history has in recent years become a subject of controversy with Beijing supporters advocating more emphasis to address the issue of radical separatist thoughts among youngsters.

But pan-democrats fear it could be used as a way to promote a biased view of history.

From the next school year, all Hong Kong secondary schools will be required to teach Chinese history as an independent compulsory subject at the junior levels.

Responding to a recent incident of an Education Bureau review group ruling that a textbook’s description of China as “taking back” Hong Kong in 1997 was problematic, deputy secretary for education Hong Chan Tsui-wah also mentioned there was no list of banned words for publishers.