China’s ‘purification’ of classrooms: A new law erases history, silences teachers and rewrites books

Sep 11, 2020 by

China’s crackdown on Hong Kong is purging teachers, rewriting textbooks and increasing pressure on schools over what to put in the minds of students. A new national security law has endangered freedom of thought and expression.

The high school visual arts teacher couldn’t go to the front lines of protest, but he took inspiration from the pro-democracy marches and unleashed his own brand of subversion: cartoons.

He drew a policeman sweeping a bloodied protester under a rug fashioned after the Chinese flag. Another sketch captioned “Lunchtime” depicted popular snacks — an egg custard tart and deep-fried French toast — next to a canister of tear gas. He captured the unrelenting despair that seized Hong Kongers after the demonstrations each night with an image of a man lying in bed crying himself to sleep.

Everywhere Wong looked, he saw China constricting the freedoms that had made Hong Kong an unabashed city of towering glass, raucous politics and quicksilver commerce. He drew in harrowing detail what he was losing, sharing his work on social media under the pen name @vawongsir. He thought his identity was safe. But then came the anonymous complaint to the Education Bureau that he was “publishing inappropriate illustrations online.”

Wong would end up losing his job.

“I felt powerless,” he said.

With China’s tightening control over Hong Kong, including passage of a new national security law, the territory’s pro-democracy activists, politicians, journalists and others are facing a Communist Party determined to crush dissent. Perhaps the greatest threat from this new purge — one that will affect generations to come — is the increasing pressure on schools and teachers over what to put in the minds of students. Both activists and bureaucrats know that a nation’s soul is distilled in the classroom; history can be erased with the silencing of teachers and rewriting of textbooks.

“They are turning education into a tool for controlling thought in Hong Kong,” said Ip Kin-yuen, a pro-democracy lawmaker representing the education sector who is vice president of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union. “There are a lot of cases of teachers being wronged, facing exaggerated accusations. I would describe it as political persecution.”

Hong Kong is being remade before the world. Chinese leader Xi Jinping is capitalizing on his country’s economic power and the planet’s preoccupation with the coronavirus to rein in Hong Kong’s democratic ambitions. Xi wants to subsume this defiant territory into his vision of national unity, even as China faces diplomatic fallout, most notably from the Trump administration, which has drawn closer to a new Cold War with Beijing in a fraught time of high-tech surveillance, shifting supply chains and America’s fallen stature of a global leader.

Source: China’s ‘purification’ of classrooms: A new law erases history, silences teachers and rewrites books – Los Angeles Times

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