Protests outside of Hong Kong's education headquarters on Monday, September 3. Photo posted on Twitter by @galileo44.
It would be fair to say that the school year in Hong Kong has gotten off to a rocky start. Outraged over the city’s plan to require schools to introduce a controversial national history course, thousands of students, parents and teachers have taken to the streets outside Hong Kong's education headquarters, criticising the new plan as “brainwashing”.
The as-yet-undefined "national education plan", which the government says it wants schools to introduce immediately in Hong Kong’s primary and secondary schools, is set to become mandatory during the 2015/2016 school year. Hong Kong’s government has said the course is meant to encourage pride and help build a national identity.
Although demonstrations have been stirring for some months, the movement really took off on July 29, after a crowd estimated by police at 32,000 and by organisers at more than 90,000 people swarmed the city’s education headquarters.
Protesters dressed in black. Photo posted on Twitter by @helenawong.
Often dressed in black, with a length of black ribbon tied around their wrists or fixed to their clothing, the protesters have tried to maintain a constant presence outside the building. In a bid to further pressure Hong Kong’s government to withdraw the requirement, a group of around 10 demonstrators also began a hunger strike on Friday, August 31.
With no sign of the protests dying down anytime soon, Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung has said that it is too early to consider withdrawing the programme, while his deputy, Carrie Lam, attempted to calm concerns over the issue on Monday by urging dialogue.
Long under British rule, Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997 and is now designated a "special autonomous region." The island has kept considerable autonomy, notably in regard to its political system. Its residents have also clung to their Cantonese culture, which many local residents fear is being overtaken by mainland Chinese cultural influences.

“It teaches kids that they should love the country and that they should say they are proud to be Chinese out loud”

Helena Wong, 27, lives in Hong Kong where she works as a freelance designer. Although no longer a student, she is one of the thousands of people who have joined the protest movement.
I was away when the protests first began in July, but when I got back to Hong Kong in August I began following news coverage of it. At one point the city’s head of education said that although there were thousands of people out demonstrating, he was confident that everyone who wasn’t speaking out actually supported his initiative. How can someone claim to represent a group of people on the basis of their non-participation? It’s nonsense. So I decided to go down to see what was going on.
Photo posted on Twitter by @vivaharris.
I went for the first time on August 31. The protest organisers set up a sort of fair with different booths where you could see some of the proposed teaching materials. Some of it was surprisingly biased. I saw a set of teaching guidelines that subject matter should evoke an emotional response from students, and if a child fails to demonstrate any feelings over the national anthem, for example, then the teacher should tell them to go home and reflect upon his or herself. The curriculum teaches kids that they should love the country and that they should say that they are proud of being Chinese out loud. A lot of protesters have equated it to ‘brainwashing’. [Hong Kong education officials have reportedly issued a statement denying they have settled on a teaching manual that has been criticised for being excessively pro-Communist Party].
“The  theme of the course inherently rules out critical thought”
Even though I feel that there are a lot of cultural differences between mainland China and Hong Kong, we are all Chinese. Regardless, I don’t think this kind of programme really has a place in Hong Kong’s schools. I feel that the theme of the course inherently rules out critical thought. Worse yet, even if a child learns the material by heart, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they believe it. When they have to take a test in class, they’ll basically be asked to lie if they want to pass. It would basically teach students how not to tell the truth.
There are always at least a few thousand people out in front of Hong Kong’s education headquarters. Knowing that a lot of the demonstrators have to go to work, people take turns making sure the space is constantly occupied. People come with extra water, toilet paper, sleeping bags, tents, and things for the rain.
So far, Hong Kong’s government hasn’t really responded in any meaningful way, other than making an effort to let everyone know that it will be up to individual schools to decide how they want to phase the new subject matter into the curriculum. A number of schools have decided not to launch it yet, I think partly because of the protests and partly because of pressure from parents. The government might hold dialogue as a way to appease the public, and may even be willing to make some compromises, but I don’t think there are a lot of protesters who believe that they’ll actually revoke the initiative. Regardless, there’s a university strike planned for next Tuesday if the government doesn’t address the protesters' demands, and there are plans to keep demonstrating until they give in.