Patriots or pretenders? Students face crackdown in Hong Kong classrooms

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Hong Kong (AFP) – The Hong Kong Sum teenager says he’s leading a double life.

At school, he presents himself as a conscientious student, happy to learn a new “patriotic” program and to stand to attention during the now regular flag-raising ceremonies that he must attend.

But at the end of classes, the 16-year-old often goes to court to support friends who are being prosecuted for national security offenses.

“I can claim to be a loyal patriot,” he told AFP after a recent hearing. “But I will also keep my heart by building both my body and my mind.”

Sum’s friends are among a group of seven, including four minors, who were charged earlier this year with “inciting subversion” after authorities said they were found in possession of explosives and material carrying independence slogans.

The group includes a 15-year-old girl, the youngest person to be charged under a national security law that Beijing imposed on Hong Kong after huge and often violent democracy protests swept through the city there. two years ago.

“Chinese face, Chinese heart”

Hong Kong Baptist University student looks at his institution’s ‘democracy wall’ Bertha WANG AFP

Young people played a key role in these protests, as well as in previous Democracy Gatherings in 2014 and 2012.

Of the more than 10,000 people arrested in the 2019 unrest, nearly 40% were students. More than 1,100 students have since been prosecuted, many of whom are serving time.

Beijing has rejected the democracy movement, describing it as an insidious “foreign plot” to destroy China, and says a lack of patriotic education has allowed Hong Kong people to be misled and radicalized.

China has since decided to incubate loyalty among Hong Kong’s 960,000 students, as part of a larger campaign to reshape the once-outspoken city into the image of the authoritarian mainland and eliminate the dissent.

“Hong Kong-educated students should not become individuals who have only a Chinese face but no Chinese heart,” senior Chinese official Tan Tieniu said in a speech earlier this year on education reform.

Hong Kong authorities have introduced new programs for students aged 6 to 18 to introduce them to the four new crimes against national security: subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces .


Beijing has rejected the democracy movement, describing it as an insidious "foreign plot" destroy china
Beijing rejects democracy movement, describing it as an insidious “foreign plot” to destroy China ISAAC LAWRENCE AFP / File

An explanatory video released by the Education Bureau earlier this year featured a cartoon owl.

The authorities are also reforming the “liberal studies” program – a class that government loyalists have partly blamed for the protests – and renamed it “Citizenship and Social Development”.

Campus tests

Hong Kong universities have been ordered to prepare their own national security courses.

Two of them, Baptist University and Hong Kong Polytechnic University, made courses a requirement for graduation.


Some universities now have mandatory national security quizzes that must be passed to graduate
Some universities now have mandatory national security quizzes that must be passed to graduate Bertha WANG AFP

Mary, a 19-year-old Baptist student, said she recently attended a mandatory two-hour lecture given by a lawyer who went through a 260-page presentation filled with dense legal jargon copied from government documents and judgments courts.

Students were told that any absence of more than 15 minutes from the conference would be considered an absence.

She then had to pass a national security quiz within 21 days of graduating, but failed several times.

“I was asked different questions every day and I was never told what mistakes I made every time I failed the quiz,” she told AFP, asking her name family is not used.

One of the questions in the test, which AFP saw, asked students if a fictional character called “Mr. Breach” had violated national security law by holding up a banner that read: “Let’s put end to the reign of the single party “.

Students were asked to choose between no offense, inciting subversion, inciting secession, or betrayal.


Mary, a 19-year-old Baptist student, said she recently attended a mandatory two-hour national security conference.
Mary, a 19-year-old Baptist student, said she recently attended a mandatory two-hour national security conference. Bertha WANG AFP

They had to correctly guess 15 of the 20 multiple-choice questions to be successful, which Mary eventually did.

Hong Kong University, the city’s oldest, has yet to introduce its national security course, but students are describing a new culture of academic fear on campus.

“I would say resentment is boiling inside but we dare not talk about it,” HKU freshman Zack told AFP.

“Many, many people have been arrested. The purge is really effective,” he said, referring to dozens of leading democracy figures accused of crimes against national security over the past year.

Many universities, including the HKU, have severed ties with their student unions which openly supported the democracy movement.

Zack said he was organizing student interest groups in high schools during the 2019 protests.

He has since distanced himself from political activities and even stopped watching the news.


Hong Kong authorities have introduced new programs for students aged 6 to 18 to educate them about the four new crimes against national security
Hong Kong authorities have introduced new programs for students aged 6 to 18 to educate them about the four new crimes against national security ISAAC LAWRENCE AFP / File

“My last hope is that the next generation can still distinguish bad from good,” he said.

“But honestly, there is nothing I can do to help them. I won’t have children as long as I have to live in Hong Kong.”


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