New textbooks in Hong Kong say it was never a British 'colony', just that UK imposed 'colonial rule'

Don't need a time machine to change the past.

Kayla Wong | Tan Min-Wei | June 14, 2022, 08:04 PM

Hong Kong's Education Bureau has approved six new textbooks in its Citizenship and Social Development curriculum, with four saying that the Chinese city was not a British colony.

Never a colony, but governed as one

As reported by The Standard, the four textbooks, meant to be used in secondary schools, significantly changed the language used to describe the city's time under British rule, outright saying that Hong Kong was never a colony.

One textbook explains that China had always maintained sovereignty over Hong Kong and that the British had "only exercised colonial rule".

According to Ming Pao, the textbooks argued that although Britain governed Hong Kong using the model of “a colony”, subsequent Chinese governments after the Qing dynasty do not recognise “the unequal treaties”. Therefore, they never relinquished their hold over Hong Kong.

All four textbooks also highlighted the following unequal treaties in order to look at the origins of the issue with Hong Kong: the Treaty of Nanking, the Convention of Peking, and the Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory.

In addition, the textbooks explained the difference between "a colony" and having "colonial rule" imposed over a territory, saying that if a country declares a territory as its colony, the country then holds sovereign rights over it. However, if a country simply exercised "colonial rule" over a territory, then the country only possessed the right to govern it, and not its sovereignty.

China always has sovereignty over Hong Kong

The textbooks also stressed that China has always had sovereignty over Hong Kong, and that Britain was "simply executing colonial governance, which means the city is not a British colony".

The textbooks further claimed that in 1972, China had requested for the United Nations (UN) to remove Hong Kong and Macau from the list of colonies, and the resolution was passed by a majority of members.

This has, however, been disputed, with pro-democracy advocates saying that China's claims are misleading, and do not reflect what truly happened decades ago among UN General Assembly representatives.

2019 protests are "terrorist activities"

The textbooks also call Hong Kong's 2019 protests a "violent terrorist activity", claiming foreign interference.

Pro-democracy former district counsellor Timothy Lee wrote in a twitter thread that criticised the new books, saying that that the entire module was designed in such a way that "brainwashes" students, calling it a "second takeover", with the first likely referring to the 1997 handover to China.

Unsurprisingly, the new textbooks were lauded by nationalistic Chinese state-backed media Global Times, which said teachers will not be able to "convey their wrong and poisonous political views to students".

The textbooks are still being vetted by Hong Kong's Education Bureau.

Learning to be Chinese citizens

The new textbooks come as the Hong Kong government shifts its curriculum away from "liberal studies" as a core education module for secondary students, to the new Citizenship and Social Development module. It also reduces the importance of the module as compared to three other core modules: Chinese, English, and mathematics.

The Standard reports that the module will be revised to make passing standards and examinations simpler, while greatly reducing the teaching time used by over 100 hours.

When the change was revealed in 2021, Tin Fong-Chak from the Hong Kong Professional Teacher's Union (HKPTU) said that he considered the change drastic enough that the module should be considered a new subject. Meanwhile China's vice-minister of education Song Demin said that he hoped the revision would better teach Hong Kong students China's history and culture.

The HKPTU would disband later that year, having been accused of inciting violence and promoting independence by official state media agency Xinhua.

25 years of direct Chinese rule

This comes as the city prepares to commemorate 25 years since the city's handover to direct Chinese control in 1997. Chinese president Xi Jinping also recently called on Hong Kong to form a "close emotional bond" to the mainland, as reported by Bloomberg.

It is expected that  Xi will attend the ceremony marking the handover in person, and that up to a thousand people are preparing to isolate themselves in order to attend. This includes top Hong Kong officials like outgoing Chief Executive Carrie Lam, and a number of primary school students.

Top image via Getty Images