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Hong Kong students to have pro-Beijing lessons

Two years before launching the brutal Cultural Revolution in 1966, Mao Zedong lectured the masses on the dangers of over-educating children. "At present, there is too much studying going on, and this is exceedingly harmful," he said.

Nearly four decades later, Hong Kong primary school students might agree as they are about to be faced with a controversial new subject called "national education" when they return to classrooms next month.

For parents and teachers, though, the fear is not too much study but too much propaganda. Critics have said the new course will indoctrinate students into the political ideas of the Chinese Communist Party, which the city has spent more than six decades trying to keep out.

These fears seemed to be confirmed recently when schools received an educational booklet for the course with teachings that could have come directly from Chairman Mao. The booklet criticised multi-party democracies as having the potential to "victimise" people while praising single-party rule for creating "selfless" governments that brought stability.

That it was produced by two pro-Beijing education organisations that have received a combined total of £6m in funds from the increasingly pro-Beijing Hong Kong government over the past six years only served to stoke those fears.

Anger about the subject's introduction has galvanised a loose alliance of parents, legislators and a teachers' union who have planned a protest rally to march on the Hong Kong government's central offices on Sunday. They predict that up to 10,000 will join the march.

At the very least they hope to shape the curriculum so that it provides what they call a more balanced view of the Chinese political and social climate. There have been reports that the new subject would fail to raise sensitive issues such as the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and the Cultural Revolution.

Supporters of the course, which is slated to be introduced into primary schools this year before becoming a compulsory subject in 2015, say the curriculum is only a guideline and schools would be free to adapt it accordingly.