HK Time Out Magazine: Hong Kong Textbooks Column #27

Between 2009 and 2013, I contributed a short, light-hearted fortnightly political column to Time Out Hong Kong.

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A Textbook Case

Tonight, tens of thousands of patriotic Hong Kongers will gather in quiet, dignified recognition of the hundreds killed 21 years ago by their own government. We have already seen the traditional, sparsely attended debate on the Tiananmen massacre in LEGCO. And tomorrow, as per tradition, the right-wing press will pretend tonight’s Victoria Park vigil never happened.

But it is not only pro-Beijing newspapers that are guilty of self-censorship. Only one of HK’s 12 educational publishers includes full details of the June 4th incident in their history textbooks. In 1994, the then director of Education, Dominic Wong, attempted to cynically ban the topic from schools by ensuring history lessons did not cover anything in the past 20 years. Since then, publishers have played down, omitted or simplified the events of 1989. It is outrageous that many textbooks simply state that the PLA “cleared the square’. Though perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised since they are ultimately businesses and accountable to the government, which compiles a list of recommended, approved textbooks.

Even today, the subject remains a taboo whilst legislators and the Teacher’s Union are still fighting to ensure the city’s children are given the facts. Some politicians want the government to provide direct guidelines to publishers. Meanwhile, the vast majority of history teachers agree – whenever polled – that the events in question should be included in the curriculum, and their union even provides materials for classroom use.

A handful of the city’s young people will eventually come to power and it is vital they know the nature of the Communist Party and understand its mistakes. It is true that history may be written by those in power, but people’s memories are the best weapon for fighting against tyranny. For this reason alone, whether directly affected or not, it would be a worthwhile gesture to join the thousands gathered in Victoria Park this evening to light a candle for justice.

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