The children of bankers and diplomats attending Hong Kong’s international schools will be forced to sing the Chinese national anthem — with teenagers facing criminal charges if they insult it.
Under draft legislation introduced on Wednesday, compulsory classes on China’s anthem will become a legal requirement for all schools in the former UK colony.
The classes will cover “the history and the spirit” behind “The March of the Volunteers” as well as the “etiquette for playing and singing the national anthem”.
Children will have to “stand solemnly” and “not behave in a way disrespectful to the national anthem”.
China’s anthem includes lines such as: “Arise, ye who refuse to be slaves! With our flesh and blood let us build a new Great Wall!”
The clauses applicable to schoolchildren are part of broader proposed legislation introduced to the territory’s legislative council that envisions a jail term of up three years for anyone who insults China’s anthem.
The bill requiring people to respect the anthem could also apply to international sporting fixtures such as the Hong Kong rugby sevens tournament should organisers decide to play “The March of the Volunteers”.
Hong Kong football fans have received multiple warnings after booing the Chinese anthem at matches became routine following the pro-democracy Occupy protests in 2014.
The law is expected to pass without amendments in the legislative council within six months.
Eddie Chu, an opposition lawmaker, said the law was “using severe punishment to force people to be patriotic”. Mr Chu was particularly concerned that the draft bill did not allow people to opt out of standing when the anthem was played.
Wednesday’s bill is part of a larger crackdown in Hong Kong and follows a letter sent to principals of all the territory’s secondary schools in September that warned teachers to guard against any signs of independence advocacy.
“Should students have erroneous and extreme thoughts, principals and teachers should correct them with facts, and bring this to the attention of their parents,” the ministry said.
The regulations for international schools in Hong Kong pale in comparison, however, with the repressive requirements for international schools based in mainland China.
In Beijing, some international schools, where the vast majority of students are foreign citizens, have been forced by the security services to install cameras in hallways and to log all internet browsing activity of students and teachers.
The education ministry has also banned a range of topics, especially those related to modern Chinese history, from the curricula of these elite international schools, despite their claims of providing an authentic US or UK education.
Communist party representatives at schools in mainland China have even punished individual students for attempting to study topics considered taboo, such as the history of Tiananmen Square.
Patrick Nip, secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs in Hong Kong, said the proposed law for the territory was intended to “preserve the dignity and promote respect of the national anthem”. He rejected suggestions that the draft legislation would limit free speech in Hong Kong and argued that it only restricted “the format but not the content” of how people might choose to express themselves.
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