Hong Kong, now under full de facto control of communist China after reforms meant to curb protests last year, celebrated its first “National Security Education Day” on Thursday by having children in schools learn the basics of a Beijing-imposed anti-protest law.
The “National Security Law” which Beijing’s National People’s Congress (NPC) passed in May 2020 punishes anyone in Hong Kong with a minimum sentence of ten years in prison found guilty of four crimes: “secession,” encouraging foreign interference, terrorism, and subversion of state power. Hong Kong police have enforced the law despite the fact that, under the “One Country, Two Systems” policy, laws passed by the Communist Party of China cannot be enforced in Hong Kong. China has not formally repealed “One Country, Two Systems.”
The law triggered a mass exodus from the city of dissidents and pro-democracy leaders who had been active in the 2019 protest wave, which began as a backlash to a law proposed at the time that would have allowed the Hong Kong police to extradite anyone present in the city, resident or otherwise, to China if the Communist Party accused them of violating Chinese law. Hong Kong’s Legislative Council ultimately backed down on the law and the NPC stepped in.
As the protests attracted thousands of students and college campuses became focal points for resistance against the Hong Kong police, Chief Executive Carrie Lam has ordered an overhaul of Hong Kong education to ensure that students are dissuaded from challenging the Chinese Communist Party at at early age.
To popularize the law as necessary to maintain peace in the city, Hong Kong officials imposed a “National Security Education Day” on the nation’s students, forcing children beginning at age three to participate in activities such as watching propaganda videos about the law, playing trivia games about it, and filling walls with papers featuring reasons the law was necessary and good, according to the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP). The latter appears to be the government copying a fixture of the 2019 protests known as a “Lennon wall” where protesters expressed themselves on sticky notes used to create large mosaic artworks at protest sites.
“Students will learn the basic concepts of the law and the details of its offences — subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces — as part of a campaign by the Education Bureau to instill patriotism at a young age,” the HKFP noted. According to the HKFP, the government appeared to coerce most of the city’s major newspapers into running promotional material for the national security law on its covers on Thursday, as well, with the exception of the anti-communist Apple Daily. The publication’s owner, Jimmy Lai, is one of the dozens of Hong Kong residents charged with violating the national security law.
The newspaper did document the various ceremonies in schools across the city to celebrate the law, noting flag-raising ceremonies and quizzes on the provisions of the law were among the most popular activities.
“All Hongkongers have the responsibility to defend national security, abide by the law and increase their awareness,” a teacher speaking at an event reportedly said, according to Apple. “After the speech, a pastor led students to pray for the country, highlighting in the prayer that everyone needs security and the country also needs security.”
Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung, who has previously stated that schools must impose Chinese “national identity” on students, heralded the event in remarks Thursday.
“As a place for education, schools should enable students to understand that while having staunch support from the country [China], we, as nationals, also have the responsibility to safeguard national security,” Yeung said.
The event followed an announcement in February that the Hong Kong education ministry would impose guidelines on teaching national security regulations to children in kindergarten, who are typically about six years old in the city.
“National security is of great importance. Teachers should not treat it as if it is a controversial issue for discussion as usual,” guidelines for kindergarten teachers debuting at the time read, adding teachers should “clearly point out that safeguarding national security is the responsibility of all nationals and that as far as national security is concerned, there is no room for debate or compromise.”
The guidelines required teachers to “organize various game activities, such as puppet theatre, board games … to establish a good atmosphere and improve students’ understanding of national security.”
“It is definitely not too early to start from primary school,” Education Secretary Yeung said at the time. Yeung sent a letter to pre-school teachers less than a year before the new measures went into place pressuring them to instill Chinese “national identity” in their students.