Beijing plans to rewrite textbooks

HONGKONG. Yojana Sharma reports on fears that a nationalist view of history will be imposed in the classroom. It has been accepted for some time that Hong Kong's textbooks will have to be changed after the June handover to China so that colonial terms such as "governor" can be replaced. However, when China's vice-premier, Qian Qichen, confirmed that textbooks which did not conform to Chinese principles would have to be revised, it sent shock waves through the educational establishment.

In Hong Kong, teachers were worried that this signalled Beijing's willingness to intervene in educational matters and impose its view of history.

Under the Joint Declaration, the 1984 treaty between Britain and China on the handover, Hong Kong would retain autonomy over its education system.

Governor Chris Patten says the treaty and Hong Kong's Basic Law are clear that educational policies are to be set by the post-1997 government, and not to be vetted for political correctness by Chinese officials."

"In a free society, teachers are not told what facts they can teach and what facts it is politically wrong for them to teach," he said.

The colonial government has already agreed to some changes in textbooks such as revisions in references to the Opium Wars under which Hong Kong was ceded to Britain; existing references are considered to have "Western bias".

Guidelines to publishers include changes in names of institutions, including many which have dropped their "royal" title in the run-up to the handover. The guidelines also suggest textbook writers use more examples from China.

But there are no official guidelines on many other events, including the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square. Beijing saw the uprising as a counter-revolutionary movement trying to overthrow the communist government, but people in Hong Kong supported it as a democracy movement.

Headteachers fear Mr Qian's statement heralds more far-reaching changes. "He would not need to stand up in the NPC if he only meant minor changes in Hong Kong textbooks," said one.

Publishers are worried that the politicisation of education will lead to "mistakes" being made, requiring new textbooks to be published after the handover. They want changes to be vetted by the post-1997 administration-in-waiting. Many educationists are against this because they fear it could lead to political interference from China.

In China, schoolchildren are already being instructed on the history of Hong Kong through new textbooks and documentary films. Communist Party propaganda creates an unflattering picture of the departing colonialists and credits the hard-working Chinese for Hong Kong's economic success. The Chinese interpretation gives short shrift to the view that British administration provided an ideal environment for enterprise and trade.

Blatant communist propaganda is unlikely to be imposed on Hong Kong but Chinese officials have said openly that not enough is taught about China, patriotism and nationalism. The education department has defined patriotism as "instilling a sense of belonging to China", and has issued guidelines on how to do this in the classroom.

Young children will be encouraged to understand their national identity by learning about Chinese festivals and tribes. Teachers believe there could be more political overtones to teaching such values.

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