HONG KONG • The culling of key phrases from a history textbook and a push to instil Chinese national identity in students has raised fresh concerns that education in Hong Kong is under pressure from Beijing as it seeks to stamp out any hint of pro-independence sentiment.
Student-led protests demanding democratic reform for semi-autonomous Hong Kong and the emergence of an independence movement have posed an unprecedented challenge to the Chinese authorities in recent years.
To quell youth rebellion, officials on both sides of the border are emphasising the need for students in the city to learn more about mainland history and to understand Hong Kong in a national context.
But critics accuse the government and Beijing of "brainwashing".
The blacklisting last month of commonly used terms in a school textbook raised questions about whether history was being rewritten altogether.
"Our concern is about whether there is direct interference or if there is any self-censorship involved," Mr Ip Kin Yuen, lawmaker for the education sector and a democracy advocate, told AFP.
A review panel reporting to the education bureau rejected as "inappropriate wording" phrases referring to Hong Kong's colonial past in a history textbook that had been submitted to them for approval before publication, according to documents leaked to local media.
The offending terms included "the transfer of Hong Kong's sovereignty to mainland China" and "China recovered Hong Kong".
Asked about the amendments, Education Secretary Kevin Yeung told lawmakers China had never given up sovereignty of Hong Kong.
Some pro-democracy figures accused him of doing Beijing's bidding and erasing Hong Kong's past.
China ceded Hong Kong to the British when the first Opium War ended in 1842. After more than 100 years of colonial rule, Britain returned the territory to China in 1997.
Schoolbooks must be passed by a review panel to gain inclusion on the government's recommended reading list.
Concerns about Beijing's influence on Hong Kong's book industry were fuelled after a recent investigation by local channel RTHK discovered that China's liaison office indirectly owned more than half the city's bookshops.
Last year, city leader Carrie Lam announced that Chinese history would be taught as a compulsory subject at junior secondary level from the end of 2018.
This would help students become knowledgeable and responsible citizens "with a sense of our national identity, and contribute to our country and our society", she said.