A protester holds a placard during a march in Hong Kong July 29, 2012 to protest the upcoming introduction in schools of Chinese patriotism classes that they fear will lead to brainwashing. (Photo/AP/Vincent Yu)
DHARAMSHALA, July 30: In a sign of growing discontent in Hong Kong over China’s increasing influence, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets Sunday to protest the introduction of controversial Chinese patriotism classes.
90,000 protesters, led by stroller-pushing parents and young students, marched to the Hong Kong government's headquarters rejecting Beijing’s national education lessons as a bid to brainwash children with Chinese propaganda.
Authorities have encouraged schools to introduce the new curriculum when classes resume in September while remaining firm with plans to make the subject compulsory in primary schools starting in 2015.
The controversy flared up after a teaching booklet called "The China Model," which extolled the virtues of China's one-party system, was sent to local schools in recent weeks.
Protesting parents called Beijing’s attempt “blatant brainwashing” aimed at introducing mainland agenda in Hong Kong schools.
"Currently the curriculum makes no mention about issues like the Tiananmen Square crackdown or who is (Chinese dissident) Ai Weiwei, so we are not convinced it can encourage independent thinking," a student at the demonstration was quoted as saying by AP.
The government has said the subject is aimed at building Chinese national pride.
A poll released by the University of Hong Kong last month showed the number of people in the former British colony identifying themselves as citizens of China had plunged to a 13-year-low. More identified themselves as Hong Kongers.
On July 1, tens of thousands of people protested over the city's new leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who is seen as having close ties to the Communist Party. President Hu Jintao had also attended the swearing-in ceremony.
Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 as a semi-autonomous territory with its own political and legal system that guarantees civil liberties not seen on the mainland, including freedom of speech and association.
Hong Kongers have increasingly shown their anger over stunted democratic development. Beijing has pledged that Hong Kong can elect its own leader in 2017 and all legislators by 2020, though no roadmap has been laid out.