The Catholic diocese of Hong Kong sent a letter to its schools on Friday urging them to teach students about the national security law imposed by Beijing last month and help them develop “the correct values on their national identity, consistent with the Catholic teaching.”
The letter from episcopal delegate for education Peter Lau was reprinted in Chinese text and translated by the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP) on Friday.
The general tone of the instructions was for Catholic schools in Hong Kong to toe the line and avoid doing anything that could get them persecuted under the draconian national security law. The law empowers Hong Kong police to act swiftly against anything deemed “subversive” or “secessionist” by local or Chinese national officials, including hints of “collusion” with foreign powers. As the HKFP pointed out, the law also requires Hong Kong schools to “promote national security education” and gives the government a prominent role in making sure they comply.
The letter to Catholic school administrators told them to “prevent campuses from politicization and … bar people from using premises for the unilateral promotion of political messages, positions or views,” a reference to the role universities played in the 2019 protest movement.
Soon after the passing of the national security law, Hong Kong officials invoked it to ban students from singing protests songs on campus, chanting protest slogans, or forming human chains.
Lau’s letter told administrators to control political events on their campuses and “set up a regular mechanism to effectively monitor the handling of teaching materials, assignments, examination papers and books chosen by teaching staff and instructors.”
One of the first things that happened after Beijing illegally handed down the security law was the widespread banning of books written by pro-democracy figures. Authorities pulled many of those books from libraries in anticipation of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials declaring them subversive. Officials have received hundreds of complaints about textbooks containing alleged political bias.
The South China Morning Post (SCMP) quoted a source at one of Hong Kong’s roughly 200 Catholic primary and secondary schools who said the letter was meant as “more of a reminder, rather than a directive mandatorily demanding schools take further steps to promote the security or anthem laws.” Hong Kong recently passed a law criminalizing mockery of the Chinese national anthem and requiring listeners to “deport themselves with dignity” when it is played.
Diocese officials told the SCMP they were responding to requests for guidance from school supervisors on how to respond to the national security law. School administrators expect they will soon receive official directives from Hong Kong’s Education Bureau, which last month instructed them to implement the anthem law by calling the police if students or teachers are observed disrespecting the Chinese anthem.
Churches and private schools in Hong Kong are clearly nervous about the perception that they could be dragooned into pushing Chinese Communist political propaganda on their students under the national security law. The SCMP noted the Anglican Church is forming an advisory body to help its schools conform to the security law and other Hong Kong policies. Archbishop Paul Kwong stressed that this new body would be tasked with “supporting” the schools, not “micromanaging” them.