New Hong Kong textbooks ‘will claim city never was a British colony’

New Hong Kong textbooks will teach students that the city was never a British colony, after an overhaul of a school subject that authorities have blamed for driving the pro-democracy protests.

According to local reports, the new texts will teach students that the Chinese government didn’t recognise the treaties that ceded the city to Britain after the opium wars. They ended in 1997 when Britain returned Hong Kong to Chinese control, and therefore the texts claim Hong Kong was never a British colony.

The new books also adopt Beijing’s narrative that the 2019 protest movement was driven by “external forces”, South China Morning Post reported.

The four sets of textbooks for Hong Kong’s liberal studies subject were released online last week, for schools to choose materials for the new academic year in September. They are set to be used by fourth form students in “citizenship and social development” classes, which replaced the liberal studies course designed in 2009 to teach students critical thinking. In 2020 the liberal studies course was attacked by pro-Beijing authorities who blamed it for driving youth towards protests and pledged rectification.

The then chief executive, Carrie Lam, said students needed protection from being “poisoned” and fed “false and biased information”.

A subsequent overhaul of the education system included an increased focus on national security and patriotism, with teachers encouraged to report students who breached the national security law.

“It is necessary for schools to teach students to think positively and to love their nation,” the head of Hong Kong’s education department said on Monday.

Several of the textbooks discuss the 2020 national security law – widely criticised as infringing on basic freedoms by outlawing acts of dissent as terrorism, secessionism, foreign collusion or sedition. One reportedly says the law was introduced in response to “violent terrorist activities” and illegal acts in 2019 which endangered national sovereignty and security.

Another mentioned “national security” 400 times across 121 pages, the report said.

China’s state-backed tabloid, the Global Times, said the changes would ensure “some teachers will no longer be able to convey their wrong and poisonous political views to students when teaching this course”.

Tang Fei, an editor and reviewer of two of the textbooks, and also a Hong Kong legislator, told the outlet the texts had passed internal review and were now awaiting final approval. With the new texts “there will be no need for school teachers to bring in too much other content”, Tang said.

The proposed new textbooks come just weeks before Hong Kong marks 25 years since the British handover. The territory was promised 50 years of semi-autonomy, but activists argue the post-2019 crackdown, national security law, electoral changes, and growing central government interventions in civil society and the media have in effect ended that autonomy already.

This year’s anniversary on 1 July will also mark the first day in office for the city’s new Beijing-anointed leader John Lee. Lee, the former security chief, will take over from Lam.

China’s senior leaders have traditionally attended the swearing-in ceremony. Xi Jinping’s attendance has not been confirmed but speculation increased after at least one Hong Kong primary school announced it was looking for pupils to spend a week in hotel quarantine, suggesting preparations for a strict “closed-loop” system will allow Xi to visit.

Additional reporting by Chi Hui Lin and Xiaoqian Zhu