The Hong Kong government is distributing thousands of copies of a speech by Chinese leader Xi Jinping to schools in the city for teachers to “study and learn.”
In a circular sent to educators on Monday, Hong Kong’s Education Bureau said in “view of the great significance of (Xi’s) ‘Address’ to Hong Kong” copies would be sent to all local kindergartens, primary and secondary schools.
The Chinese leader gave the speech during a visit to the city last month to mark the 25th anniversary of its handover from Britain to China.
In his remarks, Xi stressed that Hong Kong was entering a “crucial period” of challenges and opportunities, and its stability and future development would depend on being governed by “patriots” and upholding “one country, two systems” – the principle Beijing pledged would give the city a high degree of autonomy for 50 years after the handover.
In the circular to schools, the education department said learning the speech would help “deepen local teachers’ understanding of the development of the nation and the world, and help them comprehend the importance of Hong Kong’s integration into the overall national development.”
“The address fully expresses President Xi’s love and care for young people in Hong Kong, and his earnest hope of providing better education for children,” it added.
Since Hong Kong was rocked by pro-democracy protests in 2019, Beijing has blamed the city’s education system for radicalizing its students, singling out liberal studies – a subject that encourages critical thinking – for spurring anti-Beijing sentiment among young people.
Amid a crackdown by authorities on the city’s opposition movement, Hong Kong last year replaced liberal studies with a new subject for high school students – citizenship and social development.
The subject leans heavy on patriotism and the national development of China and toes Beijing’s narrative that Hong Kong was occupied by the British but was never a colony.
Wong Kam-leung, chairman of the pro-Beijing Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers, denied the move to distribute copies of Xi’s speech for study by teachers amounted to indoctrinating schools with the ruling Communist Party’s ideology.
“As educators, it is our duty to understand Xi’s speech and to think how we can contribute to making the country better,” Wong told CNN.
Wong said he was aware that some students may have questions about previous pro-democracy protests or Hong Kong’s changing political situation, to which he said pupils are “welcomed to ask questions.”
“Schools as a space for learning have the responsibility to correct those who have been misled, so teachers should be equipped with the information of Xi’s speech,” Wong said.
Hong Kong’s education authorities have tightened their grip on what can and cannot be taught in classrooms since Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law over the city in 2020.
The law – introduced after the massive pro-democracy protests – criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers with punishment up to life in prison.
Two years on, no opposition lawmakers remain in the Hong Kong legislature, while nearly all of its leading pro-democracy figures, including activists and politicians, have either been forced into exile or imprisoned. Pro-democracy civil society organizations, which lobbied for workers’ rights have also disbanded.
The reach of the new legislation has also stretched into schools. Books and teaching materials that could violate the law have been removed from libraries, including titles written by jailed activist Joshua Wong.
Meanwhile, regular national flag-raising ceremonies were mandated under renewed education authority requirements.
Under guidelines issued last year, all students from age 6 in Hong Kong will receive lessons aimed at helping them “understand the country’s history and development, the importance of national security, the national flag, national emblem and national anthem.”
Teaching materials including videos, picture books, and graphics, featuring cartoon Chinese soldiers and Hong Kong police officers have also been published to help students understand their “responsibilities” under the security law.
Studying Xi’s speech hasn’t been the only change for teachers. From the academic year starting this September newly-appointed teachers in all public schools must pass an exam on the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution.