Hong Kong textbook publishers censor passages on human rights, civil disobedience

2020.08.19
Hong Kong textbook publishers censor passages on human rights civil disobedience

At least two sets of high-school textbooks no longer carry content on Hong Kong’s human rights, policing abuses, rule of law, press freedom and civil disobedience after being submitted for government vetting, Apple Daily has found.

Critics have decried a pro-government bias in the latest editions, which they say fail to help students understand controversies in Hong Kong and develop critical thinking.

The radical changes apparently stemmed from a “professional consultancy service” introduced in 2019 by the Education Bureau that, it said, would “review the quality” of textbooks for the Liberal Studies subject without making political considerations. The scheme was voluntary in nature, but books that did not undergo the review would be left off a government-curated list.

“Some members of the community… are particularly concerned that classroom teaching and learning materials for senior secondary Liberal Studies which are not objective and impartial will mislead students who are mentally immature,” Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung said last year.

Upon the publication of the revised versions, Apple Daily found that some government-approved Liberal Studies textbooks had been heavily redacted compared to their previous editions.

Ling Kee Publishing removed lines such as “The Hong Kong police’s methods of law enforcement in recent years have infringed on human rights and restricted Hongkongers’ freedom of assembly and protest” and “Basic Law interpretation by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee damages Hong Kong’s legal system and rule of law.”

The Ling Kee textbook also cut the sentence: “Some believe that press freedom in Hong Kong is in decline because of self-censorship in the media industry, the government’s restrictions on media access and free information using administrative means, and physical attacks on journalists.”

Other differences spotted by Apple Daily included the removal of the definition of “self-censorship” from the textbook’s glossary, and the replacement of a satirical cartoon about a joint checkpoint plan at the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link with a cartoon praising Hong Kong’s social welfare system.

Another textbook, published by Aristo Educational Press, deleted an exercise question on civil disobedience. The previous edition asked students to read three court judgment excerpts on civil disobedience, and to draw their own conclusions on how civil disobedience affected Hong Kong’s rule of law and whether they supported it as a means to achieve social justice.

Aristo said that the question was deleted “due to educational needs.”

Two examples of the perceived decline of Hong Kong’s rule of law also went missing from the current textbook along with a cartoon on press freedom under threat, now substituted with an illustration of it being protected by the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.

Tin Fong-chak, vice-president of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union and a Liberal Studies teacher, said that the textbooks were changed to steer clear of controversial topics, and were biased in favor of the government in a way that did not promote critical thinking.

Tin also doubted Aristo’s decision to cut the question about civil disobedience, saying that it was a topic taught in many classrooms and was of interest to students.

Chairperson of the Hong Kong Journalists Association Chris Yeung said textbooks which avoided the topic of press freedom would give students a blinkered view, and that redacting content would be a shortsighted move.

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