Hong Kong (Reuters) - Thousands of Hong Kong parents marched in the streets on Sunday in protest against a school curriculum plan they said was an attempt to brainwash students by extolling the achievements of the Chinese Communist party.
The controversy is the latest backlash against perceived political influence from Beijing in the former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
The furore focuses on a Hong Kong government-funded 34-page book titled “The China Model” celebrating China’s single party Communist state as a unique political system under which its economy and society have flourished.
The book will form the basis of a national education curriculum for students aged six years and older in Hong Kong schools in the coming year.
”We don’t want our child to be fed this material, said P.S. Ho, who joined the protest along with his wife and four-year-old daughter. “If the initiative continues without changes, maybe we will change schools later or immigrate to another country.”
Parents with children in strollers, secondary school students and activists joined the rally on a sweltering afternoon, carrying placards and handing out pamphlets decrying the education plan.
A police officer estimated the crowd to be about 19,000 which is considered sizeable by Hong Kong standards.
“Parents are concerned. We don’t want them to brainwash our children’s minds,” said Linda Wong, a member of a parent concern group and a mother of one.
While the booklet touches on some negative aspects of contemporary Chinese history including unfair land grabs by corrupt officials and a toxic milk powder scandal, it makes no mention of the June 4 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989.
It also describes the U.S. political system as having “created social turbulence and is harmful to people’s livelihood”.
“This material is given to elementary school students. They don’t have the independent thinking capabilities to judge for themselves,” said Joseph Wong, 19, a member of a youth activist group.
Hong Kong officials rejected any plan to introduce Chinese-style propaganda, saying the “China Model” booklet was only a guide.
“We definitely would not want to see any so-called brainwashing type of education from happening. If that indeed happens, which we do not believe will happen...we would be the first one to come out to condemn such a situation,” said Lee Chack-fan, chairman of a group tasked with drafting the guidelines for the national education scheme.
Additional reporting by Clarie Lee; Editing by James Pomfret and Sanjeev Miglani