Protesters outside government headquarters in Hong Kong on Saturday. (AP)
Hong Kong, Sept. 8: 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 backpedalled somewhat today 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But the protesters were not mollified, demanding that the education plan be withdrawn entirely.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 this evening after Leung Chun-ying, the chief executive, offered the compromise.
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 organisers and 36,000 by the police, had formed last evening, and many protesters spent the night.
Legislative elections were scheduled for tomorrow. 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 fervour 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.
People in their 40s and older had seemed to predominate in many street demonstrations on the mainland, as families kept younger members at home until the past few months for fear that political activism would damage their chances of finding jobs and becoming breadwinners.
The protests in Hong Kong, a former British colony returned to China in 1997, have been somewhat similar to the much larger Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing in 1989: large numbers of students have flocked to public spaces in front of government buildings, staging sit-ins and, in some cases, hunger strikes.
Also 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 by accepting yacht trips while in office.
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. A rumour spread yesterday that the government had sent provocateurs here to create disturbances that would give the police a pretext to disperse the crowd.