Hong Kong backs down on 'moral education' plan
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HONG KONG -- Faced with tens of thousands of protesters contending that a Beijing-backed plan for "moral and national education" amounted to brainwashing and political indoctrination, Hong Kong's chief executive backpedaled somewhat on Saturday and revoked a 2015 deadline for every school to start teaching the subject.
But the protesters were not mollified, demanding that the education plan be withdrawn entirely. Crowds of young people in black T-shirts continued to pour into the plaza and streets around the local government's headquarters Saturday evening after Leung Chun-ying, the chief executive, offered the compromise.
Mr. Leung said he wanted each school to decide whether to teach the subject in the coming years, an arrangement that could allow Beijing's allies to press principals who do not want it.
"We just want to cancel the whole subject," said Sam Chan, a 19-year-old community college student. "People want to protect our future and our sons' futures."
A very large crowd, estimated at 120,000 by organizers and 36,000 by the police, had formed Friday evening, and many protesters spent the night.
Legislative elections were scheduled for today. Public animosity toward the education plan could hurt pro-Beijing candidates at the polls. Hong Kong officials drafted the plan over the past 10 years to instill patriotic fervor for mainland China.
For the past 10 days, swelling protests against the plan were the latest sign of a new interest in political activism by youths here, and there were some signs that this activism could be spreading in mainland China for the first time since the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Like the Tiananmen Square protesters, the Hong Kong students have been protesting corruption, particularly a widespread perception here that government officials have become too close to the city's tycoons.. The Hong Kong protesters have even put up a "goddess of democracy" statue that resembles the Statue of Liberty, similar to the statue used by students during the Tiananmen Square demonstrations..
Although the students did not appear satisfied with Mr. Leung's announcement, it nonetheless represented a concession and could be seen as a sign of weakness by the Beijing officials who appointed him after his selection by a committee of 1,200 prominent Hong Kong residents that was included many Beijing allies.
The national education curriculum -- contemporary Chinese history with a heavy dose of nationalism and a favorable interpretation of the Communist Party's role -- was originally supposed to be phased in school by school starting with the academic year that began last Monday. But only a handful of schools have begun teaching the subject.
First Published September 9, 2012 12:00 am