Education in Hong Kong
Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more
The office of the embattled Professional Teachers’ Union in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay. Photo: Warton Li

Hong Kong’s largest teachers’ union withdraws from Brussels-based federation amid criticism over joining foreign support for protests

  • Move by 95,000-strong body comes after a week of upheaval in which it backed out of other alliances amid Beijing’s wrath
  • It has also set up a working group to raise awareness of Chinese history and culture among teachers and students

Hong Kong’s largest teachers’ union has withdrawn from a Europe-based federation of 380 educators’ groups worldwide after city authorities cut ties with the local body, slamming it for being too “political”.

The pro-opposition Professional Teachers’ Union, which has 95,000 members, also said it had launched a working group to boost awareness of Chinese history and culture among educators and students.

Pro-Beijing newspaper Ta Kung Pao on Thursday reported that since the 2019 social unrest, the PTU had joined hands with Education International – which is based in Brussels – and foreign unions in urging the Hong Kong government to respond to protesters’ five demands, such as calling for democratic reforms.

The report cited lawyers in saying that authorities should consider banning the group under the Societies Ordinance.

The city’s education minister also told teachers in a letter to reconsider whether the PTU could “truly represent themselves”, citing a statement issued last week which slammed the union as “no different from any other political group”.

How Hong Kong’s largest teachers’ union met its decline

In that statement issued on July 31, a spokesman for the Education Bureau had criticised the PTU’s comments and actions in recent years, comparing the group to other political entities, a point also made in one of two state media commentaries published just hours earlier that day, also slamming the union.


The spokesman also said in the statement that during the 2019 protests, some students and teachers had been “swayed to take part in violence and unlawful activities”. He accused the PTU of not “shouldering the responsibility of the education profession”, and failing to “help teachers demonstrate their professionalism in guiding students to discern right from wrong”.

According to a letter attached to its statement on Thursday, PTU president Fung Wai-wah had written to Education International president Susan Hopgood a day earlier, indicating it was withdrawing from the foreign body.

“The withdrawal is effective immediately,” Fung said in the letter.

PTU president Fung Wai-wah. Photo: Nora Tam

The PTU explained in the statement that the move was to follow up on its executive committee’s decision on Tuesday to “focus on the education profession and rights, make all efforts to work on core missions, serve members, and provide diverse welfare services for them”.

The PTU also quit the pro-opposition Confederation of Trade Unions on Wednesday, after withdrawing from the Civil Human Rights Front in March and the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China in June.


The union announced on Thursday that to follow up on the Tuesday resolution, it was setting up a Chinese history and culture working group.

“It will organise various activities to promote a positive understanding of Chinese history, developments and culture among teachers, as well as to nurture affection for the nation among students,” the statement read.


PTU ex-president Cheung Man-kwong and veteran Chinese history teacher Chan Hon-sum will advise the working group on its operation. Another veteran Chinese history teacher, Chen Yan-kai, and fellow history educator Cheung Wong will lead the group as its convenor and deputy convenor, respectively.

Chen and Cheung also sit on the PTU’s executive committee.

What finally triggered Beijing’s wrath against Hong Kong’s biggest teachers’ union?

A PTU insider told the Post the purpose of forming the new working group was to “place more emphasis” on Chinese history and culture, but stressed that the union had been holding relevant events over the past decades. He did not say if the formation of the group was related to the Education Bureau’s earlier statement.


“Outsiders have often neglected our work in that area. We hope to strengthen our work in terms of Chinese history and culture based on the changing social atmosphere,” the insider said. Relevant events held by the PTU included a seminar to mark the 100th anniversary of the student-led May Fourth Movement in 2019, he added.

The insider also said the PTU had many such working groups, including some focused on academia and language, as well as others on practical operations such as welfare.

At the 42,000-strong pro-establishment Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers, chairman Wong Kam-leung said it had also been continuously focusing on work related to Chinese history and national education, including on national security.


“It is also important to recognise and acknowledge the status of the current ruling party of China when we talk about Chinese history,” Wong said.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: PTU quits foreign group amid backlash