The erasure of history begins in Hong Kong under new security law

The Hong Kong government has begun ordering schools inside the city to remove pro-democracy books and materials that were found to be in violation of new security law, local and foreign media reported Monday in Hong Kong.

Egged on by Chinese media, who said that such ‘poison’ must be removed from the curriculum, the new move by the Hong Kong government is prompted by the enactment of a new security law which is aimed at crushing pro-democracy forces inside the city.

The law casts aside the pretence of the “one country, two systems” form of government which Beijing has long promoted and touted as a central part of its management of Hong Kong.

The security act grants the central government in Beijing the ability to crack down on dissidents in Hong Kong and imprison them, possibly for life.

The law outlaws all pro-democracy views and dissidents could be arrested for four security crimes including secession, subversion, terrorism and colluding with foreign countries.

Critics say that the law has been kept vague so that all acts that Beijing finds threatening could be tried under its umbrella.

Rewriting history

This vagueness, it seems, has extended as far as the education sector with schools now removing books under the guise of the security law.

“In accordance with the four types of offences clearly stipulated in the law, the school management and teachers should review teaching and learning materials in a timely manner, including books,” the Hong Kong Education Bureau said on Monday according to Agence France Presse.

This is not the first time that Beijing has used its influence to try and rewrite or censor history it finds subversive. In 2017, pressure from Beijing on the Cambridge University Press resulted in the removal of 300 articles from a peer-reviewed journal. Among the subjects that were removed from circulation were those regarding the Tiananmen Square Massacre, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution and the legacy of Mao Zedong.

Chinese people including red guards read dazibaos under a a huge poster showing Chairman Mao Zedong in Beijing in January 1967 during the “great proletarian cultural revolution”. – Since the the cultural revolution was launched in May 1966 at Beijing University, Mao’s aim was to recapture power after the failure of the “Great Leap Forward”. The movement was directed against those “party leaders in authority taking the capitalist road”. (Photo by JEAN VINCENT / AFP)

Only after a severe backlash from the academic community were those articles reinstated.

It is not an isolated incident. Assaults on booksellers and professors within Hong Kong and China have become more commonplace over the last decade since Xi Jinping took power.

Lam Wing-kee, a formerly Hong Kong-based bookseller, fled to Taiwan due to threats on his life over the selling of books that Beijing finds subversive.

In the mainland itself, documentation and open discussion about troubled periods of Chinese communist history is suppressed or censored altogether.

Now, it seems, that censorship and suppression will make its way to Hong Kong.

Chinese people gather in a street of Beijing in the late 60s during the “great proletarian cultural revolution”. – Since the cultural revolution was launched in May 1966 at Beijing University, Mao’s aim was to recapture power after the failure of the “Great Leap Forward”. The movement was directed against those “party leaders in authority taking the capitalist road”. (Photo by Jean VINCENT / AFP)

First arrests

At least 350 people have been arrested in Hong Kong since the new security law was enacted last Tuesday. Many of those protesters arrested were denied bail.

At least a thousand people had turned out to protest the law in Causeway Bay on Wednesday in downtown Hong Kong where protesters clashed with security officials.

The Hong Kong government said that at least seven police officers were injured in the incident.

In response to the arrests, the United Kingdom said it would consider a pathway to citizenship for many Hong Kongers in a move that sparked a furious outburst from Beijing.

Under an agreement between China and the United Kingdom, when Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997, the territory was to be a special administrative region until 2047. Many in the British government say that the new security law violates that agreement.

A banner carrying a drawing depicting Thai army chief General Prayut Chan-O-Cha and a reference to George Orwell’s famous dystopian novel “1984” is displayed during a gathering at a shopping mall which was broken up by security forces in downtown Bangkok on June 1, 2014. Around 6,000 police and soldiers were deployed across Bangkok on June 1, according to a Thai official, as authorities tried to deter anti-coup protesters who have threatened a day of flashmob rallies in defiance of the army. AFP PHOTO/Christophe ARCHAMBAULT (Photo by CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT / AFP)

A view from Thailand

Thailand has also seen a steady rise of historical revisionism since a military coup led by General Prayut Chan-ocha and General Prawit Wongsuwan toppled a democratically elected government in 2014.

Textbooks that mention former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra have had whole sections deleted or censored to seemingly erase the exiled prime minister from history.

Even though his name and his legacy are inextricably linked to the political turmoil that has engulfed Thailand for the better part of two decades, the military seems content to erase Thaksin’s role in contemporary history completely.

Books that question authoritarian rule or are satires of dictatorial regimes were also removed from bookstores under the military junta. In the early days of the 2014 coup, those found reading 1984 by George Orwell in public were arrested and charged with illegal protest.

The military government also continued to enforce bans on books that are guilty of violating the country’s lese majeste laws which are in place to protect the monarch and his immediate family. Those found in possession of such books could face jail time.

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