HKCT Review 2020: Media

HKCT Review 2020: Media

Hong Kong’s media freedom suffered serious blows during 2020, but much critical reporting continues, as shown by HKCT’s translations of coverage throughout the year. RTHK, the public broadcaster, has faced substantial government pressure to bring its programming into line with the government’s views. The Headliner, a popular satire programme, will go. Jessie Ting, a civil servant close to Carrie Lam, will head a ‘governance review’. Meanwhile, 3 senior executives will leave RTHK, and Nabela Qoser, a popular reporter, continues in her probationary period long after it was due to end.

The pattern has been repeated elsewhere. At Cable News in August and now News in June, new executives who previously worked at Television Broadcasts (TVB) were parachuted in. TVB is accused of being excessively deferential to the government and Beijing. Personnel changes at Cable News continued.  After an initial round of lay-offs supposedly on financial grounds, including the firing of the whole News Lancet investigative team, many other journalists resigned in solidarity in December. They include a third of the staff of the finance desk, the whole reporting staff of the China desk, and 5 senior executives including 2 assistant news controllers. No similar changes have occurred at now News, but Bill Chan, the new head of now News, ordered a report about the Communist Party membership of a Pro-Vice-Chancellor appointee at HKU deleted.

Reporters who do not face pressure from management instead confront obstacles from the government. Bao Choy, an RTHK producer who contributed to an earlier extensive report on the 21 July Yuen Long attack, was arrested in November because he conducted a vehicle search on a government database. The Buildings Department denied Cable News journalists access to building plans after a fire killed eight in Yau Ma Tei.

Perhaps the biggest shock of the year, however, was the search of Apple Daily. Large numbers of police stormed its offices and even seized journalistic material. It took several months before Apple Daily obtained a High Court order to have the documents returned. Apple Daily’s troubles did not end there. Jimmy Lai, its owner, was entangled in legal troubles in December and denied bail. He was transferred to court at one point in chains.

Also worth noting is that the Chief Executive and her bureaux secretaries receive far more interviews from Mainland media, including CCTV, Global Times, Shenzhen TV and so on. It seems this has become the trend to avoid appearing in Hong Kong media and hence less palatable questions.

Police treatment of journalists

The Privacy Commissioner opened a case in late December after a police officer revealed the HKID of a journalist on a live stream. The HKJA said that his actions may have breached the Personal Data (Privacy) Ordinance, and demanded an investigation (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2531137923770258). The Commissioner eventually found against the police officer (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2835822119968502).

Fewer protests and clashes took place this year, but the police still behaved violently towards journalists when the opportunity arose. In May, the police pepper-sprayed clearly identified reporters in Sha Tin (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2648939831990066). Media associations including the HKJA met the Commissioner of Police later to complain about the incident, and Tang apologised on his own behalf (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2655189974698385). In August, a Japanese reporter was dragged by the police within a police cordon, and several were pepper-sprayed. The Japanese journalist was released once he was allowed to show his details (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2721930324691016). It was later found that he wasn’t covering anything at that point. The police also attacked a Cable News reporter in March but insisted it was accidental (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2595091974041519).

RTHK under threat?

In June, Headliner, an RTHK political satire show, said goodbye after the last episode of the season (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2678867765663939). A former host of the show said that even if it were to resume it would be an empty shell amidst government interference (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2654127591471290). The end of the programme followed complaints about a programme satirising the police, which was eventually upheld by the Communications Authority. The RTHK Programme Staff Union and HKJA immediately announced an application for judicial review (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2728773524006696). In February, RTHK responded to complaints by pointing out that Headliner was obviously satirical and no reasonable person would have considered it a current affairs programme (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2584501995100517) but it apologised after the ruling (see link before).

Nabela Qoser, Assistant Programme Officer at RTHK, became notable locally for her aggressive questioning of senior officials at press conferences. Her probationary period was initially scheduled to end in October, but was extended by 120 days in late September. In December, the Ombudsman rejected a complaint against the extension launched by the former chair of the RTHK Programme Staff Union, Shum Yi-lan (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2832074360343278). Some sources said that the government had pressured RTHK in Qoser’s case (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2762871967263518). An investigation prompted by a complaint against her was also reopened in September (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2763280400556008). In a possible sign of RTHK management’s view of the matter, Fung Kin-yip, Deputy Director of Broadcasting, ordered 3,000 complaints against Qoser printed, but the Corporate Communications and Standards Unit did nothing about letters of appreciation (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2810926635791384). The RTHK said that the treatment of Qoser could lead to a chilling effect and that the actions taken against her were highly unusual (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2763393710544677). At a meeting of RTHK staff, Fung appeared to compare the investigation to a criminal case, but refused to apologise, so Leung Ka-wing, Director of Broadcasting, apologised on his behalf. At least 59,000 people signed a petition in support of Qoser (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2775651425985572).

The pro-Beijing camp’s opposition to RTHK has continued. In January, Politihk Social Strategic, a pro-Beijing group, held 2 protests outside RTHK. They made various demands, including the inclusion of pro-Beijing content and the firing of Nabela Qoser and Chan Miu-ling (RTHK journalists) (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2552229758327741, https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2553101374907246).

Another RTHK programme, Pentaprism II, also came under attack. In April, the Communications Authority held that a guest host, Sam Choi Chun-wai, made inaccurate and unfair comments about the police. The programme aired in November last year during some of the worst clashes of the anti-ELAB protests at PolyU and CUHK (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2631077897109593). Chris Tang, the police commissioner, also complained to Education University, where Choi was a lecturer. Tang said that the remarks constituted ‘hate speech’ (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2635754596641923).

In June, Ming Pao reported that 3 senior RTHK executives would leave within the next year. The RTHK Programme Staff Union said that RTHK veteran Kirindi Chan Man-kuen was operating under substantial pressure from external forces, whilst some sources praised her for defending editorial independence (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2672678749616174). It also urged the government not to impose former civil servants on RTHK (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2672827929601256).

RTHK also faces a threat from a review by the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, under which it operates. Jessie Ting who previously worked in the Chief Executive’s Office is to lead the review (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2692446874306028).

Hong Kong Connection’s episode on the 21 July triad attack at Yuen Long station was praised by Leung Ka-wing, Director of Broadcasting, as good enough to be used as exemplary material in journalism school. He made these remarks in response to inquiries from the Chairman of the Board of Advisors of RTHK, Eugene Chan Kin-keung. Chan said that Junius Ho had complained about how he had been reported on (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2769060549977993). It is common practice for journalists to use public databases, i.e. checking the register from the government to verify information. Bao Choy, an RTHK producer, was arrested for making a false statement, after she used a publicly available government database to make a vehicle registration search (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2796312300586151). Media groups demanded that the charges should be dropped (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2807524582798256). RTHK said that they would try to help, but some sources mentioned difficulties since Choy was a self-employed contractor (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2796358557248192). Amen Ng, then head of RTHK Corporate Communications and Standards, said that they would provide assistance if necessary. Director Leung said that he was worried about a chilling effect and that the arrest of a journalist for doing her job was highly unusual (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2795721067311941). Eugene Chan, however, said in an interview with Elizabeth Quat of the pro-Beijing DAB that the incident was like running a red light, and had nothing to do with press freedom (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2819984894885558).

Media muzzled?

Cable News was renowned for its investigatory coverage of China and Hong Kong. In June it emerged that William Fung, who oversaw Chinese news, had ordered the airing time of a programme about the Tian'anmen Square massacre to be changed. A major personnel change took place in August. William Fung became a consultant, whilst several new executives were appointed: Edna Tse as Deputy General Manager of Chinese news (from HKIBC, the channel's English channel), and Oscar Lee and Anderson Chan as news controllers (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2718346681716047). Hui Fong-fai also was parachuted in from TVB to Cable News (see https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2732887980261917). About 2 weeks later, 3 veterans of the Engineering Department were fired. Many employees from different departments demanded their reinstatement (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2731173477100034).

At the start of December, about 40 employees were sacked suddenly. This included the entirety of the News Lancet team, renowned for its investigative reporting. Many journalists were sceptical of the new management of Cable News, and decided to resign en masse. Bruce Lui, a senior lecturer at Baptist University, suggested that pressure from Beijing could have caused the changes (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2820667304817317). 5 senior editors including the assistant news controller resigned. Taking into account lay-offs nearly a third of the finance desk left the company (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2821557884728259). The whole China desk and the head of the Hong Kong desk also resigned (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2820053588212022).

The management of Cable News issued an apology the next day for their ‘handling’ of the situation in an attempt to retain people. They promised no change in editorial policy, no lay-offs or pay cuts for 2 years, and promotions for those who remained, as well as better communication. Management said generally that the company needed to restructure to ensure its continued viability (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2821534181397296). HKCT learnt that some of the journalists sacked or resigned may go to another media collectively, but we have not been able to verify such source yet.

Cheng Sze-sze, a former journalist at Cable News, said that she had remained despite offers of a much higher salary elsewhere. In the end, her colleague Yeung Leung-kit from News Lancet was photographed carrying a cardboard box leaving with his personal belongings. The News Lancet team had 8 members at its peak, but only Yeung and reporters with just half a year’s experience remained by the end (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2823795817837799).

Around the same time, the Buildings Department refused to allow Cable TV reporters to see the building plans of some flats in Yau Ma Tei. A fire had previously killed eight people there. The Buildings Department maintains that the plans are open to the public, but Cable TV, for unknown reasons, was unable to access the documents. The HKJA said that access to the documents was clearly in the public interest. Meanwhile, the Buildings Department said it had no information as to the number of applications to inspect documents, or how many were rejected (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2817601108457270).

In June, Bill Chan was appointed to lead now News. Chan previously worked for TVB, which has been accused of pro-government bias. Queenie Wu Yi-tyng, also formerly at TVB, will move to now News. It was also rumoured that Politico 政情, a current affairs "gossip" programme, might be suspended (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2681437115407004). Eventually, it was not suspended. In August, some staff planned to wear black in response to the arrest of Lam Cheuk-ting for rioting on 21 July. Lam livestreamed the attack by pro-Beijing triads at Yuen Long station and was himself injured. Chan, however, compared this to a ‘colour revolution’ and ordered staff not wear black (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2735791693304879). Later, in October, Chan ordered the removal of a report about the party membership of an academic to be appointed Pro-Vice-Chancellor at Hong Kong University (see education section for more details). He said that it was ‘inappropriate’—quite why was unclear, because he hung up immediately after being asked (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2786976034853111). now News later was rumoured to have attempted to change one of the hosts of an interview programme to Starry Lee, DAB chairman. After complaints from the pro-Beijing camp and a threat by the mother of the victim of the Taiwanese murder that ostensibly led to the extradition amendment bill, the attempt was put on the backburner (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2772922572925124).

After the enactment of the National Security Law, the police searched Apple Daily’s offices in August (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2721044358112946). The police only allowed media outlets they considered friendly to observe the search. They claimed that they had already made sure not to search certain departments, but others reported that some working in the editorial department were ordered to leave their seats even though they were working (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2720714608145921). HKJA denounced the raid and said it trampled on freedom of the press. When an executive complained that the police were searching reporters’ documents, the police threatened to arrest him (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2720727744811274). The pan-democratic camp also strongly condemned the search (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2720802578137124). Apple Daily approached the High Court over the seizure of some journalistic materials (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2781743945376320). It was later reported that Justice Wilson Chan had ordered their return. In response, many convenience stores and newsstands ordered hundreds of thousands of copies, and circulation rose from 72,000 to 350,000 (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/photos/a.1489251731292221/2721441028073279/).

In November, a student journalist at the Hong Kong Baptist University Students’ Union Editorial Board was arrested for obstructing police at a protest in May (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2796606690556712). Another journalist from Ben Yu Entertainment (娛賓) was also arrested on similar charges in May (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2801261666757881).

It emerged in November that Kung Kao Po, Hong Kong’s Roman Catholic newspaper, had censored an article criticising the police. The Justice and Peace Commission said on social media that the editor of Kung Kao Po had cut various sections of an article about the police. The editor of Kung Kao Po replied that it was to ensure that the article focused on the value of life (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2817485451802169).

Media regulation

In March, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club wrote to the Chief Executive to ask whether bans on US outlets in retaliation for similar measures taken in the US would extend to Hong Kong after unclear answers from her to a previous letter (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2603772763173440). They wrote again in June to express concern that the National Security Law would curtail journalistic freedom (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2684545348429514).

In May it emerged that the police were considering a 2-tier system for reporters, by which staff of citizen and student media would not be treated as journalists. The HKJA said that everyone has the right to cover news, and that this right was recognised in human rights law (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2659142904303092).

In July, John Lee, Secretary for Security, said that planning was underway to punish ‘fake reporters’ and regulate the media. The HKJA slammed the proposals and said that they were similar to practice on the Mainland (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2711710559046326).

Despite this concern for identifying ‘fake reporters’, the police refused to investigate HKJA allegations from May that a social media post incited others to forge press cards. They cited a lack of evidence, but this did not satisfy the HKJA (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2718016261749089).

In September, the police modified the Police General Orders to severely restrict the definition of a journalist, excluding citizen journalists and student media outlets. The police said the changes would facilitate media coverage, but Vivian Tam of Journalism Educators for Press Freedom pointed out that she had helped Police Public Relations Branch to allow student reporters to leave PolyU during the clashes there in November 2019. 8 media unions, including the HKJA, held a press conference to condemn the change (https://facebook.com/hkcolumn/photos/a.1446445815572813/2759784050905643/).

In December, however, it emerged that it was the police who had not identified themselves properly. Justice Anderson Chow in the Court of First Instance found in favour of the HKJA after they lodged a case in response to the police’s repeated refusal to properly identify reporters. Chow also held that the existing complaints mechanism was inadequate and that the Complaints Against Police Office was not independent of the police as a whole (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2810230569194324). The police rejected the ruling and planned to appeal (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2824363347781046).

Jimmy Lai case

The owner of Apple Daily, a pro-democracy local newspaper, was caught up in various legal troubles and caught international attention this year.

In December, Lai was charged with fraud and remanded in police custody till his trial in April. 2 other executives of Next Digital, Apple Daily’s publisher, were also charged, but were granted bail. They were accused of violating the terms of Next Digital’s lease (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2821820781368636). When Lai appeared in court later, he did so in chains. The police additionally charged him with collusion with a foreign country or external elements to endanger national security, the first such charge under the National Security Law (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2828239674060080). In late December, Lai was granted bail by the High Court, but the bail conditions left him under effective house arrest and prohibited him from giving interviews or publishing articles. The court required $10 million cash bail and a $300,000 surety.  (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2836732149877499).

After the court granted bail to the media tycoon Jimmy Lai in late December, he had to pay a cash bail of HK$10 million and surrender his travel documents, along with other bail conditions, including not accepting media interviews and not posting on social media (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2836470046570376). Despite all those harsh conditions, a Chinese state-run newspaper criticised the High Court for granting the “serious offender” bail. (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2839423089608405). Jimmy Lai resigned on 29 Dec as the chairman of Next Digital, which will be taken up by Ip Yut-kin (https://facebook.com/hkcolumn/photos/a.1446445815572813/2841007502783297/). On the last day of the year, Lai was put in remand again (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/photos/a.1489251731292221/2842420849308629/).

Lai’s arrest attracted international attention. Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo called for his release (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2829035060647208). The Deputy Secretary-General of Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party said that he thought the CCP had a had in Lai’s arrest as well as other incidents such as mass lay-offs at Cable News (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2822074144676633). Reporters sans frontières (Reporters Without Borders) announced that Lai was their special laureate this year (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2825976994286348). In China, Gu Minkang of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies said that Lai should be tried in China to set an example (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2831357710414943).


After the US government imposed restrictions on Chinese state media, China retaliated by expelling 13 American journalists (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2602246826659367). Hong Kong Watch condemned the expulsion (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2601844540032929). The Foreign Correspondents’ Club noted that they will also be prohibited from working in Hong Kong, which was prima facie inconsistent with the protection of press freedom in Hong Kong (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2602047046679345).

Visa troubles also hit Aaron Mc Nicholas, an Irish journalist. After 5 years of reporting in Hong Kong, the Immigration Department refused to renew his visa. Mc Nicholas was planning to take up a job at an online English media outlet in Hong Kong. As usual, ImmD did not state why (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2766684486882266). The Foreign Correspondents’ Club asked the Immigration Department whether a new national security unit had been asked to vet journalists’ visa applications (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/photos/a.1446445815572813/2722792634604785/). The Immigration Department, however, refused to give a clear answer (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2728290110721704).

An RTHK journalist asked Bruce Aylward, a senior WHO official, whether it should consider admitting Taiwan. Aylward then pretended not to be able to hear and then hung up (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2612179592332757). Edward Yau, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, then claimed that RTHK had in some unspecified way violated the ‘One China’ principle by asking about Taiwan. When asked, Carrie Lam said that she agreed with Edward Yau (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2618859284998121).

Internationally, Hong Kong has fallen further down press freedom rankings. It now is 80th (down by 7) internationally due to noticeable problem in its treatment of journalists during pro-democracy demonstrations, according to Reporters sans frontières (Reporters Without Borders) (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2759352134282168).

In October, Danny Vincent, BBC's journalist in Hong Kong, said he was followed by a suspicious man. He found someone waiting for him outside his home in the same week that Next Digital founder Jimmy Lai Chee-ying and others were arrested for violating Hong Kong's National Security Law, and that he saw the same car at various locations and after moving to a hotel (facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2771063163111065).

Broadsides from the pro-Beijing camp

The government’s attitude to public relations has hardened over the years. In December, the Security Bureau issued a vague statement about Ted Hui, who had fled into exile, but declined to name him. It condemned as ‘shameful’ any abscondment ‘to avoid legal responsibility’, and denounced ‘so-called “exile”’ (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2822408864643161). Some academics think that the vocabulary of the Hong Kong government has changed, increasingly echoing the central government’s shrill tones of denunciation (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2831638880386826).

Police unions have long been angered by any critical coverage in the media. Now the staff of the Immigration Department have joined them. RTHK’s ‘Hong Kong Connection’ alleged inhumane treatment at the Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre. 4 unions condemned the report, as did Elizabeth Quat, a pro-Beijing lawmaker (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2832083513675696). The Immigration Department also condemned critical coverage (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2832491796968201).


New Liberate HK Sculpture in Southern California; No Communists Allowed
Original: Facebook 
23 Dec (PST) / 24 Dec (HKT)

HKCT's correspondent recently paid a visit to the Liberate Hong Kong sculpture in Yermo, California, near Interstate-15. The sculpture was created by Chinese-born New Zealand artist, Chen Weiming, who was also behind the replica of the Goddess of Democracy that is currently housed at CUHK.

When the sculpture was unveiled in Liberty Sculpture Park on 29 August 2020, 2 months to the day after China forced on Hong Kong the National Security Law. Between 300 and 400 people showed up to show their support in yellow hard hats, signage, and flags, despite the raging pandemic.

“This statue is for Hong Kong and their revolution,” Chen said at the unveiling. “They want liberty, freedom, democracy.” The event was live-streamed by Hong Kong Forum, Los Angeles - Public.

Also housed in the same 36-acre park are several other statues, including the Tiananmen Tank Man, a commemoration of the Tian'anmen Massacre in June 1989, a 16-foot-tall statue of Chinese activist Li Wangyang in shackles, and Chief Crazy Horse, a 15-foot-high head of a Native American leader.

Visitors to the park will not miss the sign "WARNING: NO COMMUNISTS ALLOWED" in both English and traditional Chinese. Within close proximity, one will also find a bright yellow Hong Kong / Add Oil, Stand with Hong Kong flag tied to posts.

Back to Liberate Hong Kong, the sculpture sits on a base decorated with colourful tiles depicting messages and slogans about democracy, human rights, and freedom. Additional wooden square tiles with drawings, aspirations, and commemorations are found on a Lennon Wall next to Chen's sculpture.

(All photos are taken by HKCT and please credit them when you wish to share it elsewhere)

HKCT Review 2020: Education

HKCT Review 2020: Education
(Citizen News)

The education sector has long been seen by pro-Beijing forces as a major source of dissent in Hong Kong. Hong Kong officials and state media repeatedly said it was necessary to impose national education on local schools. Tensions came to a head in May, when the Examinations and Assessment Authority set a question in a history DSE paper asking whether Japan effected more good than harm to China from 1940 to 1945. Few defended the question, but when the Education Bureau (EDB) seemed to force the Authority to cancel the question, many feared for the Authority’s autonomy, and said the cancellation was unfair to students. An application for judicial review was dismissed by the High Court in July. Hans Yeung, head of the history unit in HKEAA, had to leave the organisation he served for 15 years.

In December, Liberal Studies, a particular bugbear of those opposed to the anti-ELAB protests, was gutted. It is now allocated half the time, will be assessed on a pass/fail basis, and will be taught only using strictly vetted textbooks. Meanwhile, the EDB banned two teachers from teaching, and has punished several others; more punishments are threatened. The government defended the changes, denying that they would undermine critical thinking. A pro-Beijing legislator, Priscilla Leung, however, opposed teaching secondary school critical thinking skills, and therefore supported the changes.

At the University of Hong Kong, Benny Tai, the architect of Occupy Central, was fired by the University Council in July, and 2 Tsinghua University colleagues of the current Vice-Chancellor, Zhang Xiang, were appointed Pro-Vice-Chancellors in October. CUHK university authorities called the police on its own students on graduation day in November, 8 of whom were arrested on suspicion of violating the National Security Law. University Services Centre for China Studies (USC) at CUHK would be restructuring in 2021; its Director Professor Pierre F. Landry tendered his resignation after the University proposed to restructure the Centre.

Internationally, universities including Oxford and Harvard acted to protect students studying China by ensuring that any controversial remarks they made in classroom discussions would not be disclosed anywhere else. In Australia, disciplinary proceedings went against Drew Pavlou, a student activist who organised a protest about Hong Kong; the University of Queensland denied that the proceedings had anything to do with the protest, but also refused to disclose why they had been initiated.

Last but not least, with COVID-19, universities, as well as primary and secondary schools, started to move all teaching and learning activities online, such as Zoom (though Zoom was earlier reported to be linking users' computers to PRC servers if they are using a certain version). We might have some students who have never been to a university campus to attend lessons to be university, primary or secondary school graduates.

De facto national education?

Officials both in Hong Kong and the Mainland, as well as the pro-establishment camp, have called for radical changes to the education system. In August, Kevin Yeung, the Education Secretary called on kindergarten teachers to ‘develop’ the ‘national identity’ of toddlers with ‘interactive activities’. He suggested story-telling and singing of nursery rhymes to build Chinese identity and encourage filial piety (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2736703616547020). The EDB also suggested some activities to promote the PRC constitution on 4 December, such as flag-hoisting and the singing of the National Anthem. It also encouraged students to pay close attention to developments on the Mainland such as the inauguration of the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link. The EDB did not mention certain parts of the PRC Constitution. For example, Articles 33 to 37 guarantee equality before the law, respect of human rights, and freedom of speech, the press, assembly, association, procession, demonstration, religious belief, and the person, and Article 39 prohibits unlawful searches of and intrusion into citizens’ residents. Article 40, meanwhile, protects the privacy of correspondence, and Article 41 the right to criticise state organs and suggest improvements. No activities about these provisions were suggested (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2798430843707630).

Around the time of changes to Liberal Studies (see below), Reuters reported that two mainland officials had warned of ‘comprehensive education reform’ by the end of Carrie Lam’s term in 2022. Although they offered few specifics, they mooted greater monitoring of teachers. The Education Bureau did not directly respond to the report when asked for comment, but laid emphasis on the development of national identity and national security education, comparing the situation to other countries (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2816505491900165). State media has also condemned the education system. The People’s Daily worried that Liberal Studies, for example, could lead to brainwashing and acceptance of ‘laam chaau’. ‘Laam chaau’ refers to mutual destruction, and is one strand of thought amongst anti-ELAB protesters, according to which, even if the achievement of protesters’ aims is impossible, some attempt should still be made to damage the local and central authorities (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2818615411689173). Similar worries were expressed by the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO). A spokesperson said that advocacy of Hong Kong independence and violence was taking place in schools, and needed to be eliminated. The HKMAO also insisted on patriotism and adherence to the rule of law in schools. (https://facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2672849026265813). In practice, even in the one case the Education Bureau considered sufficiently egregious to disqualify a teacher from teaching, it transpired that Hong Kong independence had been discussed, but not advocated (see below). In a November blog post, Matthew Cheung, the Chief Secretary for Administration (second only to the Chief Executive) said that national security education was ‘imperative’, without providing specifics. In the new vocabulary of Hong Kong officialdom, he spoke of ‘positive values’, and praised Carrie Lam’s 2020 Policy Address as ‘comprehensive, rich, pragmatic and progressive’. According to Cheung, national security education not only helps to secure the country, but will also ensure prosperity and stability (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2818377641712950).

CY Leung, a former Chief Executive, has demanded that the EDB should go further. This year he has publicly denounced several teachers and revealed their identities. Citing the arrest of over 1,000 minors in anti-ELAB protests, he said that some teachers must be ‘black sheep’ to blame, and referred to similar practices in the UK. (The Prevent scheme to prevent radicalisation in the UK has been criticised by human rights lawyers, and a Whitehall investigation found it did not work, as reported in the Financial Times. A government review is ongoing, although the appointment of a chair has been delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic.) (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/photos/a.1446445815572813/2780360488847999/). Outgoing education sector lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen compared Leung’s approach to the Cultural Revolution. The Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data has received 17 complaints about Leung, and said it would handle complaints in line with existing procedures. Meanwhile, the largest teachers’ union in Hong Kong—the Professional Teachers Union (PTU)—said that it would consider filing an injunction (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2777366499147398). Although the EDB has refrained from identifying teachers whom it has punished in order to comply with data protection legislation, CY Leung dismissed such concerns and applied for a judicial review of the decision. In response to a letter, the EDB said that it was following up on cases closely, but this did not satisfy Leung (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2765201433697238). Leung also said that parents should be able to access this information and accused the EDB of succumbing to political pressure from teachers’ unions; in his view, good teachers would be tarred unless bad teachers were identified (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2768166940067354).

Meanwhile, a Roman Catholic primary school was revealed in September to have included a patriotic prayer, which read ‘God, thank you for letting me become Chinese. I have to love the Country and the Nation just like Jesus to express my gratitude to you.’ (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2749583805259001).

That same month, after references to the separation of powers under the Basic Law were removed from textbooks, the Secretary for Education denied that there was any censorship of secondary school textbooks in Hong Kong (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2744332209117494).

Earlier, in May, a kindergarten teacher was accused of insulting the police after using promotional material about the Police Dog Unit on its 60th anniversary (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2642574632626586).


In July, Benny Tai was fired from the Faculty of Law by HKU (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2710168759200506). Tai was the architect of Occupy Central with Peace and Love, the 2014 protests demanding universal suffrage as promised in the Basic Law that led to the 2019 anti-ELAB protests. Fu Hualing, the head of the Faculty of Law, said in a circular that he strongly regretted Tai’s dismissal, but expressed hope that the faculty would still be able to maintain academic freedom. Fu is a constitutional and human rights expert, and earlier wrote an article (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2697831477100901/) expressing concern about the National Security Law in that respect (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2785330111684370).

In September, the HKU Lennon Wall was vandalised but rebuilt. Students demanded a full investigation from the university, especially into the possibility that security guards had neglected to prevent vandalism on campus. They held a march to the President’s office (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2764162770467771). September also saw a statement from six journalism departments asking the police not to restrict their definition of journalists for operational purposes to locally government-registered and internationally prominent outlets (https://facebook.com/hkcolumn/photos/a.1446445815572813/2758806841003364).

In November, 8 graduating CUHK students were arrested after a small protest was held. Last year, the university was praised for attempting to negotiate with police on behalf of student protesters. This time, it was condemned for calling the police by its students (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2825134384370609). In a joint statement by university student unions, the university was accused of destroying trust between students and management, and betraying the ideals of its founders, who had fled from the CCP’s persecution (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2824919784392069). Amnesty International condemned the arrests (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2825167747700606). The National Security Department claimed graduating CUHK students advocated Hong Kong independence and caused criminal damage with spray paint; it also said that CUHK had reported the students to them (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2810560219161359) Later that month, four students were arrested for unlawful assembly after setting up a street booth to raise awareness about the case of 12 Hongkongers earlier arrested by the Chinese coast guard and detained in Shenzhen. The 12 were attempting to flee to Taiwan (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2819484091602305).

In December, the President of the Baptist University’s Student Union was arrested on suspicion of obstructing the course of justice, possession of an offensive weapon, and resisting arrest. He had earlier been acquitted in a similar case (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2821326944751353). The Student Union condemned the arrest and called it arbitrary (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2820645111486203). A magistrate later granted him bail, but prohibited him from leaving Hong Kong and required him to report to the police every Thursday (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2825282424355805).

Also, in December, University Services Centre for China Studies (USC) at The Chinese University of Hong Kong would be restructuring in 2021. Founded in 1963, the USC is renowned in academia worldwide and hailed as the “Mecca for China Studies”, and the imminent restructuring in the coming year amidst turbulent times in Hong Kong’s political scene has drawn suspicion of oppression. A source at CUHK told RFA that the former Centre Director Professor Pierre F. Landry tendered his resignation after the University proposed to restructure the Centre (facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2837965313087516).

Widespread opposition amongst students was sparked when Max Shen, later appointed Pro-Vice-Chancellor, was found to be a Party Committee member at Tsinghua University. A separate proposal will allow the Pro-Vice-Chancellor to appoint selection panels for college deans. 4,000 students signed a petition against the appointments (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/photos/a.1446445815572813/2789016604649054). But Shen denied that he was a member of the Communist Party, saying that the website administrator at Tsinghua had made a mistake (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2789266977957350).

Liberal Studies

Signs that changes to Liberal Studies were likely appeared in August, when it was reported that several changes had been made to textbooks. After a review by the EDB, material on the separation of powers and civil disobedience was removed. Also absent was content on localism, photos of pro-democracy marches and the 4 June candle-lit vigil. The Vice President of the PTU, Tin Fong-chak, said that the changes were an attempt to impose pro-Beijing views and went too far. Tin also remarked on the removal of references to Hong Kong’s former status as a British colony, and said that it was common knowledge anyway (https://facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2733826036834778). Hong Kong’s status as a colony was a vexed question in the run-up to the handover. The United Nations in 1960 passed a Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, which also made reference to self-determination. Hong Kong was classified as a colony to which the declaration applied by a report published in 1963. The view of the Chinese government, however, is that Hong Kong is not a territory entitled to self-determination, since it was always an integral part of China merely (illegitimately) occupied by Britain. Hong Kong was removed from the list after China joined the United Nations.
Portents continued to appear over the next few months. In September, a government task force suggested that current affairs should not be discussed at all within secondary schools, since they were beyond students’ comprehension (https://facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2758731234344258). The analytical components of other subjects, such as history and geography, were also under threat. New EDB guidelines placed much more emphasis on the factual elements of curricula, and cautioned against analysis of current affairs on the basis that conclusions might be subjective (https://facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2769156439968404).
Without consulting the task force concerned, the EDB decided to radically alter the Liberal Studies curriculum in November. Under the plans, the 1 to 5** grading system will be changed to pass/fail, the EDB will provide a list of approved books, and the number of topics will be halved (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2815049268712454).

Ip Kin-yuen, the outgoing education sector lawmaker, said the move was a politically motivated attempt to stop students from developing critical thinking skills and discussing current affairs. Priscilla Leung, however, said doing so was a good idea, and that secondary school students were too young and vulnerable to ‘twisted information[sic]’ (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2816252231925491). Over 90% of Liberal Studies teachers opposed the changes. The EDB instead said that the PTU was needlessly politicising curriculum reform and attempting to create dissension between the EDB and teachers (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2826634727553908).

Civil servants and staff at the Curriculum Development Institute working on Liberal Studies said they were unaware of the changes. This discrepancy led some to suggest that the changes were politically motivated and had not actually originated from professionals in the sector (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2818344878382893). The charge was repeated by the PTU. The Liberal Studies Teachers Association also said that the changes had been imposed without consultation. However, the Federation of Education Workers (HKFEW) said that changing the curriculum would reduce stress levels and allow more time to be spent on other subjects. He also worried that Liberal Studies was potentially misleading and biased, echoing other pro-establishment voices’ criticisms. The FEW is the smaller pro-establishment counterpart of the PTU (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2816490408568340). Kevin Yeung, Secretary for Education, insisted that the changes were exactly as proposed. He denied any need to determine students’ precise level of knowledge in Liberal Studies, saying that the pass/fail system was sufficient (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/photos/a.1446445815572813/2816631398554241/).

Yeung also attempted to reassure the public by noting that the changed curriculum would not exactly be called ‘National Education’ (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2822966644587383). In 2012, student protesters forced the government to abandon moral and national education; the content of the proposals is not dissimilar from the changes to Liberal Studies. Scholarism (one of whose members is Joshua Wong) was thrown into the public limelight after the protests.

Meanwhile, at one school, the Principal ordered pupils to write letters of praise to the Chief Executive. All letters were to be submitted to her for approval, and were required to praise the Policy Address of the Chief Executive. The Principal, when questioned, defended the letters as a way to present multiple views (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2818305505053497). Yeung later denied that changes to Liberal Studies would undermine critical thinking (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2822966644587383).

Disqualification/investigations of teachers

One teacher revealed at the start of the year that the EDB was investigating him for criticising the police. Although his school confirmed that he had not discussed politics with pupils, the EDB demanded explanations for each individual Facebook post he had made (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2553433441540706). In October, a primary school teacher was de-registered by the EDB and will therefore not be able to teach in future after discussing materials advocating Hong Kong independence in class, to the regret of some parents (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2770118469872201) and pupils (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2804813393069375). Amnesty International condemned the move (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2770660046484710).

The People’s Daily declared that the ‘poison of colonial education’ was still present in the education sector, citing the dismissal of a primary school teacher accused of using material about Hong Kong independence (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2773500822867299). The dismissal led to self-censorship amongst other teachers; for some, it was their first time. One teacher particularly feared complaints from parents or a probe from the EDB (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2784194428464605).

Others have also been disciplined: 21 have been reprimanded, and 12 given written warnings; the EDB has also threatened to de-register those who break regulations. It also ‘reminded’ about 40 teachers not to behave in a manner detrimental to the professional image of teachers, and behave socially acceptably (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2769623713255010). International schools have also told teachers to be careful, and reminded teachers that some pupils’ views were likely illegal (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2736691943214854). In December, the Secretary for Education said that the EDB was also considering proposals to introduce new forms of punishment, such as pay cuts and temporary suspensions (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2823700681180646).

Another teacher was de-registered in November after making some mistakes in teaching, such as inaccurately saying that the Opium War was started by the British to rid China of opium (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2803982089819172).

In late February, Ho Pak-yan, a teacher in Confucius Hall Secondary School, published an apology in the newspaper for his suspect of issuing hate speech against the police earlier. The verse can be read vertically by the first Chinese character on each sentence, together to be read as "death to dirty cops and their families, not one less" (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2585776551639728). Ho remained a teacher at the school after investigation though.

Exam controversy

In this year’s DSE history exam, one question asked about the effect of Japan on China in the early twentieth century, sparking much controversy. The EDB demanded the cancellation of the question, and simultaneously denied exerting pressure on the Examinations and Assessment Authority (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2650222985195084). It then announced an investigation into the Authority, prompting worries about its autonomy from some principals (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2652544361629613).

Commentaries in the People’s Daily declared the education sector ‘deeply poisoned’ and called for stricter supervision by the EDB (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2651789445038438). These complaints were echoed throughout Chinese state media (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2650109455206437). Eventually, at a special meeting, the Authority decided to cancel the question and adjust marks accordingly (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2655729401311109).

Several senior officials in the Authority later left. Those opposed to the move were generally worried by potential unfairness or the possibility of undermining the Authority’s autonomy, as opposed to the question in particular. One, Hans Yeung Wing-yu, a senior manager at the Authority, said that it was placed under immense political pressure. He added that to ignore candidates’ work by cancelling the question was disgraceful (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2819809154903132). 2 others, who privately made controversial remarks on social media, also left (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2651037021780347). Hans Yeung left HKEAA in November and received several media interviews to reveal details; it is known that the name of the setter was Kelvin Ip Kai-yiu (previously a history teacher in a leftist school and now a Curriculum Development Officer at EDB). (https://facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2839649649585749)

A secondary school student applied for judicial review (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2652732904944092) on the basis that it was unfair, but the application was dismissed in July (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2690151671202215).

Later that year, Wei Xiangdong, an education economist specialist at Lingnan University, replaced the previous Secretary-General after he decided to retire (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2817475851803129).


The National Security Law has had international implications for teaching about China.  The University of Oxford has anonymised essays to protect students from National Security Law. Students who endanger others by making recordings will commit a disciplinary offence. (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2763400660543982). Princeton, Harvard, Amherst and others and others have followed (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2728787564005292).

Meanwhile, Australian universities have attempted to avoid any backlash from the Mainland after several controversial incidents involving Hong Kong. Drew Pavlou, University of Queensland student activist who organised a pro-democracy rally, was suspended. The university denies that the matter had anything to do with the rally, but also has not specified what Pavlou was accused of. It also ordered Pavlou not to disclose what the proceedings were about, threatening further punishment (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2662455720638477). At the University of Melbourne, students called for the removal of job advertisements from the Hong Kong police after the passage of the National Security Law (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2692323164318399).

At the University of New South Wales, management declared it had a ‘long and valued relationship with Greater China’ after complaints about articles about Hong Kong. 3 academics had written an article that was featured by the university website, attracting criticism from China. The university quickly apologised. (https://www.facebook.com/hkcolumn/posts/2713324125551636).


21:31 27 Dec: Hans Yeung Reveals: Trust in Turncoat Leads to End of Career; Sources: Question Setter Teaches in Leftist Sch before Entering EDB

Hans Yeung Reveals: Trust in Turncoat Leads to End of Career; Sources: Question Setter Teaches in Leftist Sch before Entering EDB
Original: Stand News 
21:31 27 Dec

Speaking to Stand News, Hans Yeung, former History subject manager at HKEAA, cried during an interview as he was agitated - "how can they be so unscrupulous?" The hallmark incident marking the fall of the education sector, is after all, a meticulously schemed contrivance.

Hans Yeung said, "This setter - when I knew him he was still in MPhil. He helped me when it was still in A-Level era. To put it simply, I introduced him to this path of exam-setting." After Yeung finalised to choose this man to be the setter last year, he then joined Education Bureau (EDB). The man told Yeung he was applying for the post in EDB. Based on years of cooperation and trust, Yeung did not think too much about it.

On 13 May this year, his Facebook post about China and Japan years ago was unearthed by leftist papers Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po before the History DSE exam. Both papers called him for response. Yeung said, "They escalated that quickly against that Facebook post and the topic is so similar to the question in the exam, which will be due the next day - the question will surely be heckled."

Yeung then called this setter. "I said 'Hey it seems someone wants to mess with this question, what do you think?' He even said, 'It's a good exam question. If they try to mess with it, it will look very nasty." On the day of the exam, Ta Kung Pao and Wen Wei Po put Yeung as the front page, and EDB issued a statement to condemn the question. Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung demanded HKEAA to cancel the question. Yeung reached the setter again, but the setter only said "I've read it" without further response. This was the last thing he said to him directly and vanished in the life of Hans Yeung, whom the setter has known for more than 10 years.

The next time Yeung knew about this setter's remarks was from the verdict in early July after some students filed a judicial review. As a curriculum development officer, this setter wrote a report on 14 May, the exact day when the exam question was bombarded by the pro-Beijing camp.

Calling the question containing severely biased view and serious faults, The setter wrote, "This question has no room for discussion, since the answer must be only "home", instead of any "good". Given the absence of room for discussion, this question is neither suitable for educational purposes, not suitable for public examinations that aims are differentiating students' abilities objectively."

Vanished Archives learnt that this setter, when devising questions, was still a history teacher in a leftist school. He finished his MPhil in HKU History in 2009, and ironically his thesis title was "Leftist Propaganda in the Hong Kong 1967 Riots". Vanished Archives found that the thesis has disappeared from the Internet, nor can alumni nor staff access the thesis. It would be interesting to see how this former leftist school teacher interprets "anti-British riots" in his thesis.

Morning, 25 Dec: Prof Yuen & Medical Professors Urge Vaccination Programme to be Implemented in Priority

Original: https://news.mingpao.com/ins/%E6%96%87%E6%91%98/article/20201225/s00022/1608561098759/%E5%BB%A3%E6%B3%9B%E6%8E%A5%E7%A8%AE%E4%BB%97%E4%BF%A1%E4%BB%BB-%E8%BF%85%E9%80%9F%E9%96%8B%E5%B1%95%E9%A1%AF%E6%B1%BA%E5%BF%83%EF%BC%88%E6%96%87-%E9%BE%8D%E6%8C%AF%E9%82%A6-%E8%B6%99%E6%99%9E%E6%8F%9A-%E8%96%9B%E9%81%94-%E8%A2%81%E5%9C%8B%E5%8B%87%EF%BC%89 
(Anna Shvets/Pexels)

The government has purchased three vaccines and expects that vaccination can commence as soon as early next year.

Professor Yuen Kwok-yung, together with 3 other medical professors, said that preliminary experiments have shown that the three vaccines can induce the right amount of neutralising antibodies to prevent symptomatic infections or serious complications, but may not be able to prevent asymptomatic infections, reduce the release of viruses from the upper respiratory tract, and therefore the patient may still infect other people. Also, the duration of protection and the amount of booster are yet to be proven.

The article mentions that China's Sinovac Biotech vaccine has the least side effects among the three vaccines in the phase I and II clinical studies, but the immune response is weaker and the protection time is expected to be shorter.

Shanghai Fosun and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines have better protection and are relatively safe, and the chemical composition is simple, so it is easier for the laboratory to do quality assurance analysis.

The vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University need to be carefully monitored because of two cases of transverse myelitis side effects, and it is believed that the vaccines of Kexin and Fosun and BioNTech should be used first; health care workers, the elderly, the chronically ill, border control personnel and people in high-risk occupations should be given priority.

The article also pointed out that the universal vaccination program is a matter of urgency and must be carried out quickly, extensively and openly, with transparent and open information, while respecting the wishes of the public and giving them the opportunity to choose freely.