Protesting against a curriculum they call a form of brainwashing by the Communist Party of China, more than 1,000 university students boycotted classes in Hong Kong on Tuesday.
The students demanded the full withdrawal of a new patriotic Chinese curriculum that had prompted thousands more protesters to take to the streets in recent weeks.
The program, called a “moral and national education,” was viewed as a push from Beijing to deepen ties between Hong Kong students and mainland China. A long-time British colony, Hong Kong reverted to Chinese control in 1997. City residents continue to enjoy far more freedoms than their counterparts in mainland China and Hong Kong remains a key business hub in Asia. However, tensions have been rising in recent years as Beijing has moved to impose more influence on Hong Kong.
In response to the swell of public protests, Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader, Leung Chun-ying, retreated Saturday on the eve of legislative elections on the plan to make the “moral and national education” curriculum mandatory. The curriculum will now be voluntary until 2015.
“It makes no difference. Some schools depend on government support so they may feel pressure if they don’t impose national education,” Winky Wong, a student at City University of Hong Kong, told Reuters on Tuesday.
“It’s all excuses. We don’t believe in government excuses.”
In July, as many as 90,000 demonstrators took to the streets to express opposition to the proposed education changes. The widespread protests highlight the rising concerns among Hong Kong residents that mainland China is increasingly imposing its will and culture on the city.
Hong Kong’s tourism revenues are now highly dependent on visitors from the mainland. Many public announcements in Hong Kong are now made in Mandarin in addition to the local Cantonese. However, the influx of wealthy Chinese shoppers and tourists has boosted tensions and exacerbated cultural differences between the two sides.
China’s Communist Party leaders have tried to strike a delicate balance between continuing to allow people in Hong Kong freedoms not enjoyed by the rest of China and asserting rule over the city.
Also on Tuesday, court officers and police shut down the Occupy Hong Kong protests that had persisted for 306 days in a plaza below HSBC’s Asia headquarters in central Hong Kong. Local reports said about a dozen protestors and their tents and possessions were removed and three of those demonstrators were arrested.
Mr. Leung has emerged as the big political winner in Hong Kong’s legislative elections on Sunday, some have argued, as pro-democracy groups failed to take advantage of the recent protests against China-linked policies.