‘Hong Kong Was Not a Colony?’ Scholar Criticizes CCP for Distorting History

Hong Kong media Pai Daily recently revealed academic textbooks submitted for review by the Hong Kong Education Bureau that claim “Hong Kong was not a former colony.”

“This is a patently false statement,” says Hong Kong historian Hans Yeung Wing-yu. He explains that communist regimes and altering history go hand in hand. Altering textbook content is a necessary step to maintain the continued suppression of the Hong Kong independence movement, he says, and its aim is to erase Hong Kong from ever having been a British colony, irrespective of the actual history. Why does this matter? In 1960, the United Nations passed resolution 1514. It states that any colony secured through armed conflict has a right to self-determination or the right to seek independence, according to the intention of the resolution to end colonialism. This U.N. resolution means Hong Kong is eligible to seek independence if it so desires.

It wasn’t till the Sino-British negotiations in the 1980s that the British handed Hong Kong sovereignty to China while retaining governance over the colony. Yeung explains that “the CCP is now claiming the communist regime never relinquished Hong Kong sovereignty.”

He outlined five key points:

  • During the wave of decolonization after World War II, the U.N. listed colonies eligible for the path to independence under U.N. Resolution 1514. Hong Kong and Macau were originally included in that list of colonies.
  • On Oct. 25, 1971, the United Nations General Assembly voted to admit the People’s Republic of China (mainland communist China) and expel the Republic of China (Taiwan). The United States, the most significant opponent of the resolution, had argued for the communist P.R.C. to be admitted separately from the R.O.C.[1]
  • The CCP fabricated the technicality to distort facts. The idea is to have the public believe the lie that “Hong Kong and Macau were not [technically] ordinary colonies.”
  • Removing Hong Kong and Macau from the U.N. Non-Self-Governing Territories list doesn’t erase the past that Hong Kong was in fact a colony. It does change the course of history, however, by silencing Hong Kong’s future independence movement.
  • By altering textbook content and inserting the false narrative that “Hong Kong was not a colony,” and then additionally implementing a prohibition against any discussion on the topic, means the public is conditioned over time to adopt the new, false history as historical fact.

Textbook Guidelines Existed Since 1998

The British handed Hong Kong over to communist China in 1997. A year later, the “Hong Kong was not a British colony” narrative was born. CCP textbook guidelines required the word “colony” to be replaced with the word “Hong Kong,” per November 1998 documents submitted to the Legislative Council, by the Law Drafting Division of Hong Kong’s Department of Justice.

Historian Hans Yeung Wing-yu remembers this change as he was part of the machinery that carried out the new guidelines. He witnessed it as the manager of the Assessment Development Department of the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority.

“Not until the 2010s, when the issue of ‘Hong Kong independence’ emerged, were the 1998 textbook guidelines actually enforced,” he said. “Then in 2018, the Bureau’s Textbook Review Team barred phrases such as ‘China taking back Hong Kong’ and ‘China insists on taking back Hong Kong’s sovereignty.’ These were flagged as ‘inappropriate wording’ requiring revision.”

Yeung said the situation intensified following the overnight ratification of the national security law in June 2021, absent any form of democratic Hong Kong legislative oversight. This is when the Bureau’s Textbook Review Team made a most bizarre ruling deeming the statement “Hong Kong is located in the south of China” as inaccurate, requiring publishers to amend it, he said.

“How can one dispute the fact that Hong Kong is located in the south of China? It turns out they did not disclose the reason behind this bizarre ruling to the public because the reason was so absurd. Believe it or not, the Textbook Review Team sincerely believed that by putting ‘Hong Kong’ and ‘China’ together in one sentence, Hong Kongers might believe they share equal status with mainland China. And that’s why the revision ‘Hong Kong is located in the south of China’ was deemed inaccurate, requiring publishers to revise the statement!”

He recalled that he had argued with the Bureau over similar semantics reviewing examination papers, many times during his tenure. Soon thereafter, he was fired from his position by the authorities.

Violating the Rule of Law

Yeung explained that Hong Kong has a strong legal foundation as a colony under British law that the CCP cannot alter. Britain’s Charter of the Colony of Hongkong, passed in 1843 after the founding of Hong Kong, laid the legal foundation for Hong Kong as a colony. In fact, the official full name of Hong Kong was “the Colony of Hong Kong” throughout the period of British governance, referred to equally throughout British academia.[2]

It doesn’t help the CCP that Sun Yat-sen, the father of the pre-CCP Republic of China (1912–1949), is on record referring to Hong Kong as a colony.

Sun said that his “revolutionary ideas came from Hong Kong, from the colony of Hong Kong” in a public speech at the University of Hong Kong in 1923. Hong Kong had been a British colony following the Opium Wars, going through three iterations of British colonial rule since the mid-1800s. Then in 1898, China leased Hong Kong to the British for 99 years. It’s only recently that Hong Kong’s colonial status became a sore spot for the CCP. Pre-1997 British handover, the CCP never denied Hong Kong’s obvious status as a British colony. There were too many economic benefits the colony afforded the CCP as a lucrative international business hub.

Seeking Real Information

Yeung believes students challenging “fake history” will result in educational discourse immediately collapsing, evidence that both the CCP and the Education Bureau are lying.

Yeung said it is a pity that education under CCP rule is dishonest. Integrity and the principle of truth in education have been completely lost. Any educator would agree that it is hard to stomach; “it is invariably what happens under CCP rule.”

What surprised Yeung was the brazen deployment of outright lies fabricated by CCP authorities to “write fake history directly,” turning the concocted narrative that “Hong Kong is not a British colony” into reality. It’s an equivalent feat to saying that two plus two equals five, he added.

Yeung lamented that Hong Kong’s ideology is now lining up with the CCP’s, only 25 years after the CCP’s takeover of Hong Kong.

In Hong Kong, Yeung says education has fallen, “students only learn lies, no truth, and there is no insight, no critical thinking. Hongkongers are required to comply with the regulations.” When asked how to remedy the CCP contamination of Hong Kong’s learning institutions, he said, “They must be awakened and seek other knowledge, find good books to read. Parents should do their own research and share it with their children.”

[1] https://archive.nytimes.com/learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/25/oct-25-1971-peoples-republic-of-china-in-taiwan-out-at-un/

[2] “THE COLONY OF HONG KONG.” Journal of the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 11 (1971): 172–93. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23881514.