john choy photography 2016. All Rights Reserved.
It was a day of downpours, tears, hope and even a rainbow. On September 1st 2012, an estimated 40,000 people filled Tamar Park next to Hong Kong’s famed Victoria Harbour and framed by the territory’s gleaming new government headquarters.
They were there to protest against the introduction of a new mandatory Moral and National Education Curriculum in Hong Kong’s primary and secondary schools. Under this new subject, children from as young as six would be expected to develop a sense of national identity and pride in their country; to be be moved when they see the raising of the flag of the People’s Republic of China.
Many are worried the new curriculum amounts to “brainwashing”. They were particularly horrified when teaching materials developed for the subject referred to China’s ruling Communist Party as “advanced, united and progressive” and extolled the virtues of China’s political system while denigrating the “suffering” caused by inter-party conflict in democratic systems.
On July 29 2012, an estimated 90,000 people braved the heat to march against “brainwashing education”. Many of them were families with young children, some of them in strollers. For some of the marchers, this was their first demonstration. Numerous opinion polls and surveys show the majority of people disapprove of pushing ahead with the curriculum. But the government refused to withdraw the subject, prompting three secondary school students to begin a hunger strike outside the government headquarters on August 30.
On September 1st, the last Saturday before the beginning of a new school year, tens of thousands of people gathered at the Government Complex, first for a Civic Education Carnival and then for a rally in the evening that included speeches and performances from civil society representatives, public figures and local artistes.
By the end of the evening, 10 people including a parent, teachers, a retired professor and university students started a hunger strike as the three secondary school students concluded theirs.
That they were prepared to put their health at risk, shows the depth of anger and disappointment many in Hong Kong are feeling about the government’s refusal to even consider withdrawing the controversial curriculum and starting new consultations with the community.
That so many people, including young people and families with children, were willing to express their views in a peaceful way shows the community’s resolve to safeguard what they see as freedom of thought and the future of Hong Kong itself.
Text and caption by Yuen Chan