Several textbook publishers in Hong Kong removed phrases like “separation of powers” and references to popular slogans used during pro-democracy protests as China continues to extend its influence on the semi-autonomous city.
According to the South China Morning Post, changes were made to liberal studies textbooks produced by six of the city’s top publishers.
Liberal studies is a mandatory subject for Hong Kong high schoolers and covers several topics, including contemporary Hong Kong and globalization, according to SCMP. Unlike other core subjects, schools are not required to have textbooks for liberal studies approved by the city’s Education Bureau.
Last year, the Education Bureau provided a “voluntary” advisory service to review liberal arts textbooks after Hong Kong’s former leader, Tung Chee-hwa, alleged that the subject had radicalized Hong Kong’s youth and encouraged protest.
SCMP said on Tuesday, August 18, that it observed changes to several liberal arts textbooks—two publishers had deleted the term “separation of power” from its curriculum, while others removed images depicting Hong Kong protesters or signs referencing the “liberation” of Hong Kong.
“Liberate Hong Kong” has become a popular slogan used by the pro-democracy movement and was banned by the Hong Kong government in July under the city’s new national security law. The new law bans secession, subversion and foreign interference, and threatens a maximum sentence of life in prison.
According to SCMP, some textbooks also removed images of “Lennon Walls,” colorful mosaics of handwritten notes that have become a popular motif of the city’s pro-democracy movement. Local media reported that references to universal suffrage were deleted and warnings on the consequences of “civil disobedience” were added.
The revisions made to Hong Kong textbooks are the latest in a series of changes in Hong Kong’s education system.
In June, Hong Kong schools were ordered to display the Chinese flag and sing the Chinese national anthem after the city passed a controversial law that makes insulting China’s national anthem a crime.
In July, two renowned professors and leading pro-democracy figures were fired from their jobs. Benny Tai, a law professor and a leader of the 2014 umbrella movement, was fired by the University of Hong Kong, while lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun, a lecturer at Hong Kong Baptist University, said his contract was not renewed after 11 years of teaching there.
Educators worry that Hong Kong is attempting to purge pro-democracy voices in academia as part of a wider crackdown on dissent. Tai wrote in a Facebook post following his removal that the decision marked the “end of academic freedom in Hong Kong.”
The Hong Kong Professional Teachers Union (HKPTU) raised concerns that changes to school textbooks would limit the room for discussions of controversial topics in the classrooms and urged Hong Kong’s Education Bureau to “stop political censorship of social issues.”
In a statement on Wednesday, the union said that textbook revisions have “seriously damaged the goals and objectives of the general education curriculum and hindered the practice of high school students having opportunities to understand social issues from multiple perspectives.”
The Education Bureau hit back at the 100,000-member HKPTU, saying the union’s criticisms were “totally unfounded, based on twisted facts and deliberately smearing the service.”
“The publishers voluntarily participated in the professional consultancy service and refined the textbooks, with a view to sieving out the inaccurate parts from the rest. This is for ensuring that the information is correct, based on facts, keeping abreast of the times,” a bureau spokesman said in a strongly-worded statement.