‘Hong Kong Was Not a Colony?’ Scholar Criticizes CCP for Distorting History

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Four of six Citizenship and Social Development textbooks submitted for review by the Hong Kong Education Bureau stated that “Hong Kong was not a former colony,” Hong Kong media Ming Pai Daily News recently revealed.

Hong Kong historian Hans Yeung Wing-yu believes that this statement is not based on historical facts. In his view: “The rule [under] a communist regime and altering history are often regarded as ‘twins.’ Altering the content of textbooks is also part of the need to suppress Hong Kong independence. Its aim is to erase the fact that Hong Kong was a colony. As a colony secured through armed conflict, its people would have had the right to seek independence, according to the United Nations resolution 1514 concluded in 1960.

“The comprehensive contents in the books are tantamount to tampering with history, by claiming that the Chinese communist regime after the Qing Dynasty never gave up sovereignty over Hong Kong, that the United Kingdom only had governance, not sovereignty over Hong Kong and that, China always had sovereignty over Hong Kong, even before the handover of Hong Kong in 1997.”

Yeung said that the above does not “reflect the historical facts,” and believed that the reason that the authorities put forward “Hong Kong was not a colony” is a political need.

He set out the following points:

In the wave of decolonization after World War II, colonies were eligible to seek independence through the surveillance of the United Nations. The list was drawn up by the “Special Committee on Decolonization” of the UN originally included Hong Kong and Macau.

After the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was considered as a representative at the UN in 1971, the CCP proposed to the committee in the following year for excluding Hong Kong and Macao, to prevent the two places from declaring independence.

The CCP said that Hong Kong and Macau were “not ordinary colonies,” but according to the relevant documents, they did not deny that they were colonies. Therefore, the removal of the two places from the “Non-Self-Governing Territories” list, only changes the future of the two places, but not the fact that Hong Kong was a colony.

The historian raised that the issue was due to the political deployment of the CCP taking back Hong Kong and Macau in the post-war decolonization wave, but “political necessity does not mean that you have to deny its past.

“However, after the CCP took over Hong Kong and Macau, they still dealt with issues of Hong Kong and its history from the perspective that Hong Kong is going to be independent. They ‘closed the way out’ by altering the content of textbooks and prohibiting students from discussion, which is obviously tampering with history.”

He believes that the incident is an extension of the CCP’s suppression of “Hong Kong independence,” and its deployment in education is to leave people unaware that Hong Kong was once a colony. Therefore, the principle of “colonies after war must be granted independence” cannot be applied to challenge the political discourse of the authorities.

Textbook Guidelines Existed Since 1998

The discourse of “Hong Kong was not a colony” has long been officially held by the Hong Kong government.

Yeung, also a former manager of the Assessment Development Department of the Hong Kong Examinations and Assessment Authority, said that ruling from the CCP and altering history are often considered “twins” and they are always present.

He continued: “In January 1998, the Hong Kong government announced the revision of the textbook review guidelines. The document stated for the first time that China never recognized Hong Kong as a colony.

“However, the denial of Hong Kong being once a colony is something only happening nowadays.

“The guidelines were ‘not fully enforced’ at that time. As long as the textbook publishers mentioned Hong Kong was a colony, they just needed to use quotation marks.  The publishers did not need to emphasize that Hong Kong has never been a British colony.

“It was not until the 2010s, when the issue of ‘Hong Kong independence’ emerged, that the Education Bureau of Hong Kong strengthened the enforcement of the above guidelines.

“In addition to the statement that ‘Hong Kong was not a British colony,’ the Textbook Review Team of the Bureau in 2018 considered that some content of textbooks submitted for review, such as ‘China taking back Hong Kong’ and ‘China insists on taking back Hong Kong’s sovereignty’ as ‘inappropriate wording,’ and asked the publishers to revise them.”

Yeung added that this situation is even more critical after the enforcement of the National Security Law.

The former manager said that when the Bureau came across that description of the relationship between China and Hong Kong, such as “Hong Kong is located in the south of China” in the textbook submitted for review, they would consider it was inaccurate and they asked publishers to amend it.

“But they did not disclose the reason behind this to the public, because the reason was absurd: their view was that by putting ‘Hong Kong’ and ‘China’ together in this sentence makes people feel that they are of equal status.”

He recalled that he had argued with the Bureau over the use of wordings in examination papers many times during his tenure. Later, he was fired by the authorities.

Rule of Law Violation

Yeung further explained the historical background of Hong Kong as a colony. He mentioned that Hong Kong has a strong legal foundation as a colony. The Charter of the Colony of Hong Kong was passed in 1843 after the founding of Hong Kong, which laid the legal foundation for Hong Kong as a colony.

The official full name of Hong Kong was “the Colony of Hong Kong” throughout the period of British governance.

One of the guidelines for implementing the Law Adaptation Programme was to replace “Colony” with “Hong Kong,” in a document submitted to the Legislative Council by the Law Drafting Division of the Department of Justice of Hong Kong in November 1998.

In addition, Sun Yat-sen, the father of the pre-CCP Nation of the Republic of China (1912 to 1949), once said that Hong Kong was a colony.

Sun said that his “revolutionary ideas came from Hong Kong, from the colony of Hong Kong” in a public speech at the University of Hong Kong in 1923. Before the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), there was never an issue that China did not recognize Hong Kong as a colony, and the government of the pre-CCP Republic of China never mentioned these words.

At that time, the land that China wanted to take back was only the 99-year leased land in the New Territories of Hong Kong.

In 1924, Sun Yat-sen mentioned the abolition of the unequal treaties in the declaration of the First National Congress of the Chinese Kuomintang, and then there was a history of taking back the Jiujiang and Hankou concessions by revising the treaties.

Yeung pointed out that “due to the improved relationship between China and Western countries after the outbreak of World War II, China considered taking back the New Territories earlier than it should have. While cession is a permanent arrangement, and there must be a strong political reason to take it back through a treaty, but this was not the case in the Second World War.”

Until the Sino-British negotiation in the 1980s, the British proposed “sovereignty for governance,” that is, the UK handed over sovereignty to China and retained governance. Yeung believed that if students challenge teachers in the future when they are “learning fake history,” all discourse will collapse immediately, showing that both the CCP and the Education Bureau are lying.

The CCP alleged that Hong Kong’s fall into British hands was related to three “unequal treaties.”

Yeung said that “unequal treaties” was a new concept that appeared 80 years after Hong Kong became a British colony. Whilst the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties only existed since the 1960s, and it mentioned that a treaty facilitated by the threat or use of force was invalid; the earlier treaties follow this principle: “all of those earlier treaties have to be renegotiated in private for settlement.”

He pointed out that the so-called “unequal treaties” do not connote that “the treaty is invalid if I reject it, and rejection only generates more moral capital, but it does not mean that the treaty is invalid.” According to international law, before the emergence of new treaties, Britain at least had sovereignty over Hong Kong and Kowloon.

Yeung also believed that what the CCP and the Education Bureau are doing now is not only tampering with history, but also refusing to recognize treaties and violating the rule of law, which is a huge problem. “An unequal treaty is only a moral concept, not a legal concept. A treaty is a treaty.”

Seeking Real Information

Regarding the official introduction of CCP’s historical view to the textbooks of Hong Kong, Yeung said that it was a pity that education cannot tell the truth, therefore the meaning of education has been completely lost, and it is not what an ordinary educator would like to see; yet under the rule of the CCP, “it is really that it will happen sooner or later.”

He just did not expect that the authorities would use such a strong force to “write fake history directly,” turning the narrative that “Hong Kong is not a British colony” into reality, describing it as “equivalent to saying that 2+2 equals 5.”

He lamented that Hong Kong’s ideology must be in line with the CCP’s, just 25 years after they took over Hong Kong.

Yeung described that education in Hong Kong schools has fallen, “students only learn lies, not any truth, and there is no insight.” Hongkongers cannot do anything but comply with the regulations, but they must be awakened and seek other knowledge, find good books to read, and parents should also self-learn in order to convey real information to their children.

Anne Zhang


Anne Zhang is a writer for The Epoch Times with a focus on China-related topics. She began writing for the Chinese-language edition in 2014.

Leo Cheung


Nie Law


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