Hong Kong leaders try again to put divisive curriculum plan to rest

BEIJING -- Seeking to put to rest months of controversy and demonstrations, Hong Kong officials said Monday they would shelve “national education” course guidelines that many residents of the former British colony had protested as an indoctrination tool being imposed by mainland China.

The "Moral and National Education" classes, which were to have become mandatory at elementary schools within three years, were meant to bolster national identity and pride, Chinese officials said. But critics complained that the classes would be government propaganda that whitewashed history under Communist Party rule.

In early September, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets to denounce the planned courses, and some university students briefly went on a hunger strike.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced Sept. 8 in the wake of the large protests that the classes would not be mandatory, but tensions have continued. On Oct. 1, China’s National Day, protesters carrying banners with slogans such as “End one-party dictatorship" and "Power to the people” marched to the China Central Government Liaison Office. 

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Hong Kong police arrest 7 in harbor collision that killed 38 people

BEIJING -- Hong Kong police arrested two captains and five crew members Tuesday in connection with the collision of a pleasure boat and a ferry that left 38 people dead and more than 100 injured in the territory’s worst maritime accident in four decades.

The disaster happened about 8:25 p.m. Monday near Lamma Island, west of Hong Kong Island.

Dozens of passengers were thrown into the water from a vessel chartered by Hong Kong Electric Co. for its employees to watch a holiday fireworks display in Victoria Harbor marking China’s National Day. The electric company's boat rapidly sank, and photos from the scene showed a Titanic-like image of just the vessel’s bow sticking up vertically from the water.

All of the fatalities appeared to be from the company boat; the ferry was able to sail to port on Lamma Island. Local media said Tuesday night that 27 people remained hospitalized, two in critical condition. Sixty-six others had been discharged.

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Big protests arise in Hong Kong over Chinese 'national education'


As the school year begins in Hong Kong, thousands of protesters in the former British colony are rallying against new classes soon to be required by China, deriding them as “brainwashing.”

Chinese officials say the newly introduced "Moral and National Education" classes, which will be mandatory in three years, are meant to bolster national identity and pride.

Hong Kong education officials have hastened to add that “national education” makes up only a fifth of the classes, which “cultivate students’ positive values and attitudes.”

“There are no mandatory learning and teaching materials imposed by the government,” the Hong Kong Education Bureau said earlier this summer,  adding that the website included a copy of the curriculum guide for public perusal, “in which there are no elements for brainwashing.”

The protesters argue the classes are government propaganda that whitewash history under Communist Party rule, pointing to a Chinese educational handbook that skips over Tiananmen Square and says systems with more than one political party create a “malignant party struggle.” The booklet, titled "The China Model," was produced by a government-funded group.

Though education officials say the handbook is not part of the curriculum and no topics are off-limits, critics see it as a sign of an overly rosy picture of China under the new classes.

“I want my children to love our country, but I don’t want them to be in love with a false image,” Hong Kong mother and writer Verna Yu wrote in a New York Times op-ed earlier this summer.

Thousands have gathered outside Hong Kong government headquarters this week in protest, with several protesters declaring hunger strikes against the classes. Radio Television Hong Kong reported early Thursday that the protests continue “and show little sign of giving up.”

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Plastic pellets blanket Hong Kong beaches after typhoon

Plastic pellets on Hong Kong beach

Hundreds of millions of tiny plastic pellets are washing up on Hong Kong beaches after a powerful typhoon sent “white plastic sacks of death” tumbling off a ship into the sea, environmental group Sea Shepherd Hong Kong said, warning that the spilled pellets could send chemicals up through the food chain.

Bits of plastic started deluging the shores in the wake of Typhoon Vicente, the worst such storm to hit Hong Kong in 13 years. The translucent pellets, known as nurdles, are used to make plastic products and were reportedly made by China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., also known as Sinopec. Sacks with its markings washed onshore as well, the Associated Press reported.

At Sam Pak Wan beach, local environmentalist Tracey Read was appalled to find that the beach was so covered with nurdles that it looked like it was blanketed in snow.

“The words from my son years ago echoed in my head, ‘Mum, will it ever snow in Hong Kong?’ ” Read wrote on her blog, saying the sight almost made her cry.  “Yes, Finn this week it has and the snow will last not just for a day but far beyond your life and that of your great-grandchildren!”

The accident spilled 165 tons of nurdles into the water, according to Hong Kong environmental officials, and the resulting mess at 10 beaches could take months to comb from the sand and sea. Volunteers and government crews worked with brooms, sieves and nets to try to pick out the plastic; the government said roughly half had been cleared as of Sunday.

Though Hong Kong officials say the plastic pellets are not themselves toxic, environmentalists warn that nurdles soak up other chemicals and toxins like sponges, growing more and more stained as they do. Birds, fish and sharks mistake nurdles for fish eggs and consume them, Sea Shepherd Hong Kong said, spreading the toxicity through the food chain to humans.

“The increased food safety risk is unlikely to be significant as wild fish locally caught only constitutes a very small part of our diet,” the Environmental Protection Department of Hong Kong said in a statement Sunday. No unusual fish activity or deaths had been reported.

Nonetheless, the official Center for Food Safety advised the public not to eat any fish “with abnormal appearance, smell and taste, as well as dead fish on the beach.”


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Photo: A volunteer collects plastic pellets washed up on a bank of Lamma island during a cleanup operation in Hong Kong on Sunday. Credit: Kim Cheung / Associated Press

Chinese mainland moms to be banned from birthing in Hong Kong


Hong Kong plans to ban the women of mainland China from giving birth in the territory, its chief executive said Monday, the latest sign of tension between the metropolis and the rest of the Asian nation.

In a debate that echoes alarm about “anchor babies” in the United States, some have complained that babies born in Hong Kong of mainland women are guaranteed the right of residency.

Hong Kong is shelling out too much money on mainland women at the expense of locals, those critics complain. One Hong Kong official claimed that nearly half of babies born in Hong Kong hospitals last year were the offspring of non-local women, China Daily reported earlier this month.

In line with such criticism, Hong Kong has already cut down the number of outsiders allowed to give birth in its hospitals. Now, in a new move, mainland mothers will be banned from birthing in the territory unless they’re married to a Hong Kong resident, Chief Executive-elect Leung Chun-ying told Radio Television Hong Kong. The ban will go into effect next year, the radio station reported.

The Times' Jonathan Kaiman and Barbara Demick wrote in February about the insults lobbed at the millions of mainland Chinese visitors to Hong Kong, including complaints about women giving birth:

In January, 1,500 Hong Kong women stood in a pouring rain outside a maternity clinic calling for the government to stem the tide of "double negatives," their term for children whose parents are both mainlanders. Another anti-mainland demonstration is scheduled for Feb. 12 to protest plans to allow motorists from neighboring Guangdong province to drive their cars into Hong Kong.

Last year, an Internet music video called "Locust World" enumerated Hong Kong natives' complaints in the form of a saccharine Cantonese pop song. Against a black-and-white video of swarms of locusts devouring a field, the singer painted a portrait of mainland tourists spitting in public, yelling into cellphones and allowing their children to defecate on the streets.

"The locusts will stop at nothing," he croons. "Inch by inch, Hong Kong is being taken over by these pests."

Outraged mainlanders, in turn, have derided Hong Kong residents as colonial snobs, Kaiman and Demick wrote. Though China has ruled Hong Kong for 15 years, the territory enjoys significant political autonomy and retains a distinct culture from its British colonial past, which can put it at odds with the mainland.


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Photo: In this 2007  photo, a nurse cares for babies in a hospital in Hong Kong. Credit: Kin Cheung / Associated Press


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