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‘Red study trips’ from Hong Kong to China on the rise

Students are required to take national security classes and absorb 'red culture' at communist pilgrimage sites
Photos of students from the University of Hong Kong dressed as revolutionary-era communist soldiers from the Mao-era base at Yan'an, China, were posted to social media platforms this summer

Photos of students from the University of Hong Kong dressed as revolutionary-era communist soldiers from the Mao-era base at Yan'an, China, were posted to social media platforms this summer. (Photo: Beijing Center for University of Hong Kong)

Published: September 08, 2023 11:30 AM GMT
Updated: September 08, 2023 11:30 AM GMT

Dressed as revolutionary-era communist soldiers, a group of Hong Kong students participated in military-style experiences as they embarked on an education trip to mainland China.

When the group reached their destination, they visited key spots where communist maestro Mao Zedong consolidated his power during the 1934-35 “Long March.” 

The trip was part of the pro-Beijing Hong Kong government’s special program for school students for “revolutionary education” trips to iconic destinations linked to the Chinese Communist Party, Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported on Sept. 4.

Already, universities in the Chinese-ruled former British colony have added mandatory national security classes and are sending students to absorb “red culture” at communist pilgrimage sites.

It’s all part of a concerted bid to change the mindset of Hong Kong’s young people, starting as young as kindergarten, to make them more amenable to authoritarian rule, the report stated.

The city’s Education Bureau has been hard at work replacing liberal studies in primary and secondary schools with a program on “Moral, Civic and National Education."

Beijing has consistently blamed liberal studies for a series of mass popular protests since the British handover in 1997.

The Hong Kong administration has arrested and prosecuted hundreds of students including minors for participating in the 2019 pro-democracy movement that rocked the city.

Many students have already been sent for so-called “re-education” and military-style boot camp training, RFA reported.

In a circular sent to schools, the Hong Kong Education Bureau said secondary school students will now be able to take part in military-style experiences at a national defense education facility in the southern province of Guangdong.

The experiences will "cultivate patriotism and enhance national security awareness," the pro-Beijing Wen Wei Po newspaper reported.

The authorities have asked teachers in Hong Kong's schools to report any "breach of laws and regulations or deviation from the moral standards generally acceptable to society.”

National security education and tests for students have been made mandatory in universities.

Social media platforms were abuzz last month when photos of students from the University of Hong Kong dressed as revolutionary-era communist soldiers in the former Mao-era base at Yan'an were posted.

‘Read thousands of books’

In a statement on Aug. 28, Hong Kong Education Secretary Choi Yuk-lin said Chinese President Xi Jinping wrote to secondary school students in Hong Kong last month encouraging them to deepen their knowledge and feelings for the motherland.

Xi called on them to "read thousands of books and travel thousands of kilometers to gain an in-depth understanding of the history, culture and current situation of their motherland, to deepen their patriotic feelings and hone their schools," Choi said.

"In the new school year, the Education Bureau will build on the good experience of the past few months, strengthen collaboration ... and further expand and deepen the effectiveness of mainland China study groups ... so as to implement the spirit of the Chairman's reply," Choi added.

Last year's school trip itinerary included a trip to Zunyi, where late supreme leader Mao Zedong consolidated his power as the head of the Chinese Communist Party and the Red Army in 1935, during the Long March, RFA reported.

Choi said that more than 43,000 Hong Kong secondary school students have taken part in mainland China school trips so far under the program.

"In the new academic year, inland study tours will include routes outside Guangdong province and with a larger number of days," she said.

"In a trial mode, students will visit comprehensive practical activity bases in Guangzhou and Shanghai as part of the itinerary to participate in experiential learning activities in conjunction with the Civics curriculum, further broadening the scope of students' vision."

SmartCamp, run by a Beijing-based company, is one of the websites offering study camps for primary and secondary school students in China.

Schools can book camps that include the teaching of "traditional Chinese culture, education in the revolutionary tradition, and education about the national situation," according to its website.

Visits to tourist attractions, waste-processing facilities, ecological parks and industrial sites are also included, it said.

Longer trips

According to Wen Wei Po, the number of compulsory field trips to mainland China will be increased from the previous 22 to 26, with students traveling further afield on longer, four to five-day trips, including to Shanghai, Chongqing, Fujian, Hunan and Guizhou.

Wong Ching-yung, head of Scientia Secondary School, told government broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong that the one-day visits may soon get much longer.

"As we know, one-day tours are not that ideal. Even if you are going to the Greater Bay Area, transportation, meals, toilet breaks, getting on and off the bus, and roll calls, actually took up most of the time," he said.

"At this stage, one-day trips might be kept for another one or two years for schools that do not have much experience in holding mainland study tours to make the transition [to longer trips]."

Last month, "outstanding" University of Hong Kong students visited Yan'an, the "cradle" of the Chinese communist revolution, by invitation only, according to a report on their trip posted on the social media platform Weibo.

"After dinner, the students watched the first red-themed immersive play 'Return to Yan'an,'" the report said. "In the new era, the younger generation feels close to red culture — many students couldn't hide their tears when they watched it." 

"In that moment, everyone was deeply infected with the spirit of the Red Army," it said.

The group went on to visit Zaoyuan, home to several former "proletarian revolutionaries" between 1943 and 1947.

"Every plant, every tree, every brick and every tile here carries the red gene," the report said.

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