The much-feared purge of dissident material from Hong Kong’s libraries and schools is underway only a week after Beijing imposed a sweeping “national security law” on the island, bypassing its legislature and legal system.
AFP reported on Monday that Hong Kong’s government has instructed schools to “review” any books that might run afoul of the “four types of offenses clearly stipulated in the law.”
“If they find outdated content or content that may concern the four aforementioned offences, they should remove them,” the Hong Kong Education Bureau instructed.
Those four offenses are broad and ill-defined, including “subversion, secession, terrorism, and collusion with foreign forces,” and the only clarification issued by the Chinese Communist regime so far was that “political views espousing independence or self-autonomy” would be considered subversive. A great many books currently on the shelves in Hong Kong schools are likely to fall into that category, and of course administrators will err on the side of censorship to avoid being accused of subversive tendencies themselves.
The Epoch Times reported that book-banning is already going full steam ahead in Hong Kong’s public libraries. The Leisure and Cultural Services Department, which is in charge of city library services, issued a statement almost identical to the one from the Education Bureau, with the added wrinkle that books will be pulled from the shelves while they are “under review.”
“While legal advice will be sought in the process of the review, the books will not be available for borrowing and reference in libraries,” the library department explained.
The Epoch Times did some checking, and sure enough, years of writing by pro-democracy activists and legislators such as Joshua Wong and Tanya Chan is already “under review” and thus unavailable to readers.
Wong noted two of his now-suppressed books were written in 2013 and 2015, long before the recent protest movement was launched. He lamented that the security law “imposes a mainland-style censorship regime upon this international financial city.”
Wong has nothing on Su Xun, whose philosophical musings are suddenly considered problematic in Hong Kong even though he wrote them almost a thousand years ago. The Washington Post reported Su Xun is among many towering figures of ancient Chinese literature whose works are abruptly being ripped out of Hong Kong school curricula because they “might incite violence in students or make them think revolution is good,” as teacher Dom Chan put it.
Topics such as the passive resistance of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King are reportedly being erased from the syllabus in Hong Kong schools, and of course the Tiananmen Square massacre immediately became taboo, as it is in China. Students will henceforth be taught not to question the actions of Hong Kong police, or even express skepticism about public works projects favored by city administrators.
“I feel like we have suddenly been put on the front line. The government seems to have found that education is easier to blame for the current situation in Hong Kong, and easier to fix,” he said.
According to some other Hong Kong teachers who were afraid to go on the record under their names, there is such terror in academia right now that no one is willing to discuss the national security law or speak out against its excesses. Private comments made on social media can cost educators their jobs, as can the slightest resistance to teaching the new politically correct curricula. Both official and anonymous threats have been issued against those who do not play along with the new order. Indoctrination and re-education sessions for Hong Kong teachers are being planned for the next school year.
“It is getting to the point where we are wondering if we should quit. What is the point of teaching if all they want us to do is manipulate, brainwash and control our kids?” one teacher told the Washington Post. Others spoke of working underground and privately teaching forbidden knowledge to the students of willing parents.
Hong Kong authors and journalists can expect little help from their Beijing-controlled city government. Chief executive Carrie Lam insisted on Tuesday the Chinese law is “relatively mild” and “targets only a small group of people,” positioning the loss of speech and press freedom as a small price to pay for restoring order to Hong Kong.
Lam’s comments precisely mirror those of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its state media, such as the Global Times, which shed no tears over the banning of “subversive” books in a Monday article.
The Global Times compared the banning of “subversive” literature to keeping pornography out of schools, arguing that Hong Kongers have lost no rights because they are still free to read anything the CCP approves of:
Reading materials provided to students should match the curriculum and have suitable content, and school administrations should also regularly check students’ books to ensure they are appropriate for lessons, the bureau told the Global Times on Monday.
The bureau vowed to remove any books found to contain content that encourages subversion, terrorist activities, collusion with foreign forces, or other illegal content forbidden by the newly enacted National Security Law, unless the content aims to explain the law to students, said the bureau.
Schools still have the right to prepare textbooks for students under the guidance of the bureau, but should also carefully examine books that are selected. If problems emerge, the bureau will follow through.
With all that dangerous pro-democracy writing banned, schools will have more time to teach students how to love the national security law and embrace authoritarianism, so that every resident becomes “a promoter of stability and prosperity of the city as well as protectors of national security.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday condemned China’s “Orwellian assaults on the rights and freedoms of the Hong Kong people.”
“With the ink barely dry on the draconian National Security Law, Hong Kong authorities are now removing books from libraries, banning political slogans, and requiring censorship in schools,” Pompeo warned.