New textbooks in Hong Kong schools claim it was not a British colony

·3-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Children in Hong Kong’s schools will learn the territory was never a British colony in new textbooks, according to local media.

The new textbooks will state that Britain “only exercised colonial rule” in Hong Kong, said the South China Morning Post.

China has contested that it ever gave up sovereignty of Hong Kong and does not recognise the treaties which ceded the territory.

The UK returned Hong Kong to China in 1997 after being a British colony and dependent territory for more than 150 years.

Hong Kong was seized by Britain in the First Opium War and China’s Qing Dynasty formally ceded it to the UK in a treaty in 1842, although it has been a contentious issue.

In the new textbooks, a clear disinction will be made between a colony and colonial rule, the Chinese publication said.

They will also state that for a country to call an external territory a colony it needs to have sovereignty as well as governance over the area.

But the British “only exercised colonial rule [in Hong Kong]… so Hong Kong is not a British colony”, the textbooks say.

“All the new textbooks said Hong Kong was never a British colony as the Chinese government had never recognised the unequal treaties or given up sovereignty over the city,” the newspaper is cited as saying.

“The textbooks said the United Nations removed Hong Kong from a list of colonies in 1972 after China made the demand.”

The books will supplement a specific course being taught in Hong Kong’s schools which focuses on citizenship ideals, lawfulness and patriotism.

The subject will replace a course which taught pupils critical thinking skills and ideas on civic engagement, but was criticised by Chinese authorities during the city’s mass pro-democracy protests in 2019.

They claim the course and similar ones had “radicalised” young people.

The new textbooks are yet to be printed and are pending final approval by Chinese authorities, local media added.

Professor Steve Tsang, director of the SOAS China Institute, said “it is not surprising that history or liberal studies textbooks in Hong Kong are being required to meet ‘patriotic’ criteria.”.

He said that since 2013, Chinese president Xi Jinping has required all to “embrace one version of history only”.

“Hong Kong was previously allowed to be an exception” but “not any longer,” he told the Standard.

Professor Tsang continued: “In the Xi approach to history, facts are merely incidental. Only interpretation matters. And only one interpretation is allowed.

“Whether Hong Kong was a British colony or not is therefore now up to the Chinese party-state. It has nothing to do with dictionary definition of what a colony is or what international law may say or what the reality was.”

However, he added: “Having said that, the Chinese Communist Party did have a long standing practice of referring to colonial Hong Kong not as a British Colony but as ‘under British occupation’, implying that it did not fully accept British rule over Hong Kong as having a legitimate basis for being permanent.”

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