Thousands of protesters surrounded Hong Kong's government headquarters on Monday over a plan to introduce a pro-China school curriculum that they describe as an attempt to brainwash students.
Chanting "No to brainwashing education. Withdraw national education," some 8,000 people denounced a Hong Kong government-funded booklet titled The China Model that they say glorifies China's single Communist party rule while glossing over more brutal aspects of its rule and political controversies.
One hunger striker was taken away on a stretcher on the third straight day of protests after fasting for more than 40 hours.
The protests represent a challenge for Hong Kong's new pro-Beijing leader, Leung Chun-ying, who took office in July and who has come under pressure for policies that have highlighted underlying tensions as the financial hub becomes increasingly intertwined, economically and socially, with China. Polls suggest Hong Kong public distrust towards China is at a record high some 15 years after the former British colony reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, with many fearing Beijing's hand encroaching increasingly into the city's cherished freedoms and political affairs.Many of the protesters were young students who flocked to the demonstrations straight after their first day back at school, some heckling Mr. Leung to scrap the scheme or step down.
Despite protracted public opposition to the scheme including a late July rally that drew some 90,000 people, officials resisted calls to scrap it from local primary and secondary schools, saying it was aimed at instilling a greater sense of national pride and belonging towards China.
"The important thing is to ensure that the public concern or the parents' and the students' worry about the so-called brainwashing will not happen," said Hong Kong's number two official, Carrie Lam.
"But that will only be achievable by more communication between the various stakeholders and by putting the trust in the school sponsoring authorities and the individual schools."
Hong Kong officials say schools may adopt the curriculum voluntarily with the scheme not to become mandatory until 2015.
The protests are a continuation of demonstrations that first flared on Saturday, with many pledging to fight on including a small band of hunger strikers. One middle-aged female academic was taken away on a stretcher late on Monday for medical treatment after being on a hunger strike for over 40 hours.
While the curriculum touches on some negative aspects of contemporary Chinese history – including unfair land grabs by corrupt officials and a toxic milk powder scandal – it makes no mention of the June 4, 1989, crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.