Worries Grow In Hong Kong As China Pushes Its Official Version Of History In Schools : Parallels A new proposed curriculum for Hong Kong schools is missing key parts of modern Chinese history. The struggle over education is the latest battle with China over how the city is governed.
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Worries Grow In Hong Kong As China Pushes Its Official Version Of History In Schools

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Worries Grow In Hong Kong As China Pushes Its Official Version Of History In Schools

Worries Grow In Hong Kong As China Pushes Its Official Version Of History In Schools

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

History is written by the winners. So when power is shared, there's often a tug of war over the past. That's what's happening in Hong Kong, which has enjoyed a degree of political autonomy since Great Britain returned control of that city to China 20 years ago. NPR's Rob Schmitz reports on the push to teach the Communist Party's version of history in schools.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: The last time China pressured Hong Kong to scrap its curriculum in favor of one developed by China's Communist Party-led government, this happened.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Shouting in foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Shouting in foreign language).

SCHMITZ: In the summer of 2012, tens of thousands marched through the city chanting down with national education. After protesters besieged government headquarters for 10 days, officials backed down.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Shouting in foreign language).

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Shouting in foreign language).

SCHMITZ: But now the government is back with a plan to revamp how history is taught in Hong Kong's secondary schools. History teacher Cheung Siu-Chung says he's worried about the changes. The new curriculum is missing key parts of modern Chinese history, like Hong Kong's 1967 riots between communists and British rulers and the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 when Chinese troops killed hundreds of unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing.

CHEUNG SIU-CHUNG: (Through interpreter) These are crucial parts of history being taken out. Teachers are asking what the rationale is behind this, and our own deputy secretary of education said these parts of history are trivial, so we don't need to teach them. She literally said that.

SCHMITZ: The new proposed history curriculum would go into effect in two years. It would require schools to spend more time teaching students about China's modern history from the communist revolution in 1949 through its transformation to an authoritarian capitalist powerhouse today. The curriculum carefully removes or skims over events deemed sensitive by China's Communist Party, like Mao's failed political campaigns that left tens of millions dead, as well as uprisings like Tiananmen, leaving it to teachers to decide whether they'll have the time to teach these events. Hong Kong legislator Alvin Yeung is afraid teachers won't.

ALVIN YEUNG NGOK KIU: I don't mind students being taught the developments and constructions and the achievements modern China has achieved. It's fine. Economically, they have done a great job, but on the other hand, I expect the students to be taught on what happened in the Cultural Revolution and also Tiananmen Square in 1989.

SCHMITZ: Fellow Hong Kong legislator Tanya Chan says the struggle over education in Hong Kong is the latest battle with China over how the city is governed.

TANYA CHAN: These kind of confrontation will get worse and worse. But of course, at the same time, if we feel more and more vulnerable, than the control from the Chinese government over us will become stronger and stronger.

SCHMITZ: On a weekday afternoon in the Hong Kong neighborhood of Mong Kok, uniformed students stream out of schools for a half hour of freedom before heading to nighttime cram schools. Timothy Ng is among them. The 17-year-old says history is one of his least favorite classes - too much focus on regurgitation of facts. He says he learned more about China in literature class when he read George Orwell's dystopian novel "1984."

TIMOTHY NG: So basically it's a very good reflection of the modern society we are having today, especially in the Chinese context.

SCHMITZ: Fellow student Matthew Chu says he and his class were on the verge of a history lesson last year when fellow students began handing out pamphlets.

MATTHEW CHU: They gave some information about Hong Kong should be separated from China in front of our school and give to our students. And then the teacher called them to go into a room and then talk.

SCHMITZ: When they came out of the room, the students had been disciplined. And that, says Chu, was the last he and his classmates heard about Hong Kong independence at school. He says it was one of the best history lessons he's had. Rob Schmitz, NPR News, Hong Kong.

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