Explained: How The Chinese Communist Party Is Rewriting Hong Kong's History

by Sagar Kar Debroy - Jun 22, 2022 06:18 PM +05:30 IST
Explained: How The Chinese Communist Party Is Rewriting Hong Kong's HistoryA Street in Hong Kong
  • As part of the CCP's new nationalist education programme in Hong Kong, new history textbooks claim that the city "was never a British colony."

    Specific books have also been removed from primary and secondary schools in Hong Kong.

New history textbooks in Hong Kong's schools claim that the city 'was never a British colony'.

This change comes as a result of the nationalist programme named, Moral, Civic and National Education, replacing the Liberal Studies critical thinking program, in Hong Kong's primary and secondary schools.

The Liberal Studies critical thinking program was rolled out in Hong Kong's schools back in 2009.

It has been blamed by Chinese officials and media as the root of several mass protests in recent years.

Be it the 2011 campaigns against "patriotic education" by secondary school students, the 2014 youth led Umbrella movement or the 2019 protests that rocked Hong Kong, which began as a campaign against extradition law and grew into a movement that demanded democratic elections.

According to the Ming Pao and other local newspapers, four textbooks published by three different publishing houses, contain the sentence "Hong Kong was not a colony."

This historical revisionism can be traced back to the CCP. Some time ago, articles in media controlled by the ruling CCP expressed the same idea.

Of particular note is an opinion piece published in the CCP-backed Ta Kung Pao back in 10 April 2020.

"Before 1997, the United Kingdom regarded Hong Kong as a colony, and its use of the term "overseas dependent territory" was just another term for a colony. But Hong Kong was never actually a colony, it's just that the British practiced colonial rule here," reads the opinion piece.

The article refuses to recognise British sovereignty over Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, ceded by the Qing Dynasty in perpetuity, or the New Territories, which were governed by Britain under a 99-year lease that expired in 1997.

The article, written by Xiao Ping, claims that the colonial status of Hong Kong was "wishful thinking" on the part the British.

"The Chinese government after the Qing Dynasty did not recognise the unequal treaty that 'ceded' Hong Kong, and never gave up its territorial sovereignty over Hong Kong," the article reads.

It adds that by 1972, China had successfully removed Hong Kong from a United Nations list of colonies.

The article argues that the removal of Hong Kong, from that list, implied that Hong Kong wasn't eligible for independence like other former colonies.

Now, this CCP line of argument has made it into Hong Kong's schools. This line of argument isn't taught as a point of view, amongst many other point of views. It is taught as a fact.

This is part of CCP's new nationalist education programme in Hong Kong.

According to the Ming Pao report, students are mandated to absorb political points as a fact and find arguments to support it, without considering the arguments and evidence against those points.

Details of the new textbooks emerged after more than 200 titles were removed from school libraries. This 'cleansing campaign' included removal of texts written by pro democracy advocates and former lawmakers.

Meanwhile, Ta Kung Pao received a congratulatory letter from none other than Xi Jingping himself.

The letter commended the newspaper for "maintaining social stability in Hong Kong".

According to reports, the letter was read out by Luo Huining. Luo Huining is the director of Beijing's Central Liaison Office in Hong Kong.

Apart from reading out Jingping's letter, he commended the newspaper personally as well.

"In a diverse society like Hong Kong, it is especially necessary for the patriotic media to uphold the truth... and promote clarity. We especially need journalists who will uphold their mission and act responsibly", he said.

However, Ta Kung Pao isn't succeeding in persuading anyone in Hong Kong. According to recent polls conducted by public opinion researchers, Ta Kung Pao has been at the bottom.

According to analysts quoted in other reports, Xi Jinping is of the view that the media exits to serve as a mouthpiece for the party. So, the Ta Kung Pao counts as a media organisation, while all the rest are chaotic elements that don't count as media at all.

The new national security law means that the entire publishing industry is walking a fine line to avoid prosecution. The removal of specific books from primary and secondary schools is an indication of that.

Slogan for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China in Tianxin District of Changsha, Hunan, China. (Photo: Huangdan2060/Wikimedia Commons)
Slogan for the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China in Tianxin District of Changsha, Hunan, China. (Photo: Huangdan2060/Wikimedia Commons)

What kind of books were removed?

Books about the democratic processes that developed in Hong Kong between the 1990s and 2019, when the last democratic elections to the District Council following months of mass popular protest over vanishing freedoms resulted in a landslide for the pro-democracy camp.

An autobiography of Wang Lingyun. Wang Lingyun was the mother of 1989 student protest leader Wang Dan.

All books related to 1989 pro-democracy protests have been removed.

Observers of China believe that this is CCP's attempt to erase the memories of mass protests against the regime. It is an attempt to prevent the youth of Hong Kong from being politically engaged, to hollow out the aspiration of freedom and democracy.

Was Hong Kong a British Colony?

Yes, Hong Kong was a British colony from 1841 until its handover to Chinese rule in 1997. The Japanese occupation from 1941 to 1945 being the exception.

Hong Kong's colonial status was the result of a pair of nineteenth century treaties. These treaties were signed at the end of the first and second Opium Wars. There was also a 99 year lease in 1898, for the New Territories, which expanded the size of the colony by a significant degree.

China’s Communist Party, which seized power during a civil war in 1949, says it never recognised what it calls the “unequal treaties”.

In the late twentieth century — China was unwilling to extend the lease on the New Territories, and the colony not viable without them. As a result, Britain entered into protracted and contentious negotiations with Beijing over conditions for the return of Hong Kong to Chinese rule.

In 1997, China took control of Hong Kong under a “one country, two systems" arrangement. This arrangement was meant to keep the city's economic, political and judicial systems distinct from those in mainland China for 50 years.

This was laid out in a 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration registered with the United Nations. China now refuses to recognise the agreement.

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