Hong Kong's Education Bureau says Liberal Studies changes are not censorship

  • Changes to the textbooks include cartoons showing Beijing protecting press freedom and deleting the names of some political parties
  • The subject has been criticised and blamed for the anti-government protests 
Susan Ramsay |

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Concerns have risen over the changes in the Liberal Studies textbooks, with some saying they're the same as censorship. Photo: SCMP

Hong Kong’s Education Bureau says controversial changes to Liberal Studies textbooks are not censorship. Last Wednesday, the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union accused the government of censoring secondary school textbooks, after publishers were asked to make some changes to their books. 

The bureau had offered to give publishers advice on their textbooks, and six publishers, which sell most of the LS textbooks in Hong Kong, agreed. Publishers then told teachers of the changes demanded by the bureau.

Hong Kong students react to changes in the Liberal Studies textbooks

The changes included: 

  • changes to cartoons to show that Beijing was protecting press freedom instead of threatening it
  • ensuring that a section on civil disobedience outlined the possible punishment for such action
  • removing the term “separation of powers”
  • removing criticism of the mainland Chinese government
  • removing photos of certain protest slogans
  • deleting the names of some political parties

“It waters down or even distorts reality in society,” the teachers’ union said, calling on the authorities to guarantee academic freedom in the territory. 

The bureau said it deeply regretted the union’s words and insisted that the advice to publishers was to help students develop “positive values”.

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The union said the advice severely undermined the goals of the core subject. Liberal Studies was introduced in 2009 to move students away from rote learning and promote critical thinking, which is crucial for success in many overseas universities. It takes current issues and trains students to interpret data from graphs and statistics, and to understand the views of the various stakeholders involved in a situation.

The subject has been criticised by Beijing as one of the reasons behind the massive pro-democracy protests which rocked the city for months. Since then, Beijing has imposed a national security law on Hong Kong, which has sparked international criticism. This was followed by several countries withdrawing special agreements they had with Hong Kong.

Speaking at a press conference last Friday, activist and former vice-chairman of Demosisto Isaac Cheng Ka-long asked the bureau to withdraw the changes. He said he would be putting out a petition and hopes to gather 10,000 signatures.