It was a hard fight, but in the end, opponents of the policy instituted by city's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to teach Hong Kong school children a class on loyalty to the one-party system can claim victory as those in charge of education policy have now backed down from the requirement. Instead, Chun-ying announced that the decision to offer the Chinese patriotism courses to kids attending schools in the semi-autonomous city will be left up to administrators at individual schools.
The initial proposal drew strong opposition from Hong Kong residents who have grown accustomed to Beijing taking a more or less hands-off approach to the city's government. To demonstrate their displeasure with what many viewed as an attempt to "brainwash" the city's youth, over 90,000 people braved the summer heat last month to march in front of the building housing the government headquarters. The marches and rallies continued throughout the month, with the last one taking place last Friday evening and drawing an estimated 120,000 attendees.
The controversy is the latest sign of increasing discomfort with mainland China's growing influence on the city. Hong Kongers have also been perturbed about stunted democratic development and an influx of wealthy mainlanders buying up property and driving up prices.
Some speculate that Chun-ying's retreat is a signal that pro-Beijing candidates up for election to determine the makeup of city's legislature – to be held today – were afraid that people's opposition to the policy would substantially erode voter support. Residents of Hong Kong have been zealously guarding the freedoms allowed to them by the Beijing government ever since control of Hong Kong reverted to China in 1997. Since the reversion, although the city is nominally under China's control, it has been allowed more say in its governance than any other part of the country and enjoys civil rights not available to other Chinese residents, including free speech.
In the original proposal, for the next three years, schools would be allowed to decide whether to offer the classes extolling the virtue of one-party rule to their students, but the subject would have become mandatory in 2015.
The fears rose after a pro-Beijing education group published a pamphlet earlier this year extolling the virtues of one-party rule. The government stressed that the booklet, called "The China Model," was not part of designated teaching material.
According to curriculum guidelines, students would learn in the classes about China's political leaders, the contributions they have made and the difficulties and challenges they face. They would also learn how to "speak cautiously," practice self-discipline and get along well with others in a rational and respectful way.