On Wednesday, Hong Kong’s ministry of education stated that they would ban the singing of a popular anti-government protest song on campus, explaining that schools are “obliged” to protect students from being used as “political chips.”
Ministry of Education Secretary Kevin Yeung said that “Glory to Hong Kong” – the de facto anthem of the city’s pro-democracy movement – should not be played, broadcast or sung in schools as they contained strong political messages which lent strength to violent or illegal incidents.
Education has been a key area of focus for the Chinese government in their efforts to rein in anti-government attitudes. Beijing officials have attributed the failure to adopt a patriotic curriculum in schools to the rapid radicalization of students, who were arguably a driving force behind last year’s unrest.
At least 1,600 of those arrested over the past year were students under the age of 18 years old, who were involved in some of the most violent confrontations between protesters and police in protests that took place on university campuses.
Yeung said that students have been “misled and incited to express their political stance in different ways (such as boycotting classes, chanting slogans, forming human chains, and posting slogans or singing songs which contain political messages in schools)” blaming “individuals and groups with ulterior motives” of deliberately exploiting students to push their own political agendas.
“Under no circumstances should anyone be allowed to incite students to indicate their stance on controversial or evolving political issues, and mobilize them to take part in inappropriate or even unlawful activities in support of their political cause,” said Yeung in his statement.
“[The bureau] and schools are obliged to stop these acts. It is heartbreaking to see our students being used as political chips.”
Yeung noted that although the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child states that young people should be provided with freedom of expression, he explained that such a right should be subject to necessary restrictions to ensure respect of the rights of others and the protection of national security and public order.
Yeung’s statement came as a response to a question posed by Ip Kin-yuen – the education sector lawmaker as well as the vice president of the pro-democracy Professional Teachers’ Union – who accused the ministry of education of suppressing the students’ right to free speech.
“We do not approve of violent incidents, but during human chain events outside schools or when students sang [protest songs], most of them were peaceful activities,” said Ip as he urged the education bureau to “have confidence” in schools to deal with these cases.
However, secondary school principal Tang-Fei, vice chairman of the pro-establishment Hong Kong Federation of Education Workers, believed Yeung’s remarks provided schools with “clearer instructions” for handling such cases.
This call from the Ministry of Education to ban this song from school institutions came just after the Hong Kong government asked schools to review their library catalogs to ensure that all the books adhered to the new national security law.
Over the weekend, at least nine pro-democracy titles were removed from public libraries around the island to undergo a review of whether they infringed on the new law which prohibits acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. However, copies of some of these books are still available in some university libraries.
“If any teaching materials including books have content which is outdated or involve the four crimes under the law, unless they are being used to positively teach pupils about their national security awareness or sense of safeguarding national security … they should otherwise be removed from the school,” a spokesperson from the education bureau said.
He added that while the bureau would not mandate official government vetting of library catalogs, individual institutions were strongly encouraged to do independent reviews.
“Schools have a gatekeeping role in terms of choosing suitable teaching resources. The bureau would take serious follow-up actions if any problems arise over the issue,” he added.
Teddy Tang Chun-keung, chairman of the Hong Kong Association of the Heads of Secondary Schools, did not deny the possibility of some of these titles also being available at some secondary school libraries. As such, he asked the bureau to provide further details to support the vetting process as school staff may not have the necessary knowledge or professional training to make the right decisions.
However, some remain unsure of the guidelines and the extent to which a book could be considered to be infringing on the law.
Bruce Lui Ping-kuen, a senior lecturer at Baptist University believed that the scope could be too wide and might lead to a severe limit on the checking out of certain books.
“In that case, books written by political leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi [involving organizing civil disobedience acts] may also be banned,” said Lui.
Have a tip or story? Get in touch with our reporters at [email protected]