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Hong Kong abandons mandatory classes seen as pro-Beijing

By the CNN Wire Staff
September 10, 2012 -- Updated 1410 GMT (2210 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • It's up to the individual schools, Hong Kong government says
  • The curriculum is called "Moral and National Education"
  • Residents have been angered by the subject matter

Hong Kong (CNN) -- The Hong Kong government has scrapped plans to introduce a mandatory Chinese civic education subject critics had slammed as pro-mainland propaganda.

The decision came on the eve of local elections and after a series of protests including a 10-day hunger strike on the steps of the government headquarters.

C.Y. Leung, the city's chief executive, announced Saturday that individual schools would have the option to adopt the controversial curriculum called "Moral and National Education."

Hong Kong school year starts with hunger strikes

"We're giving the authority to the schools," he said. "This is very much in line with our school-based education policy."

New curriculum angers Hong Kong students
China's critics cry 'brainwashing'
William Chan Wai-lam gestures to say 'no' outside the government's headquarters in Hong Kong on September 7, 2012 during a protest against plans to introduce Chinese patriotism classes. William Chan Wai-lam gestures to say 'no' outside the government's headquarters in Hong Kong on September 7, 2012 during a protest against plans to introduce Chinese patriotism classes.
China subject prompts HK protests
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A coalition of concern group had protested against the subject which they said amounted to "brainwashing" impressionable young minds with pro-mainland Chinese propaganda.

The course material had been outlined in a government booklet called "The China Model," which was distributed to schools in July.

China's ruling party is "progressive, selfless and united," the booklet said. It criticized multi-party systems as bringing disaster to countries such as the United States.

The booklet also makes no mention of major events that many view as integral to China's history, such as the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Hong Kong has a large degree of autonomy from the Beijing government as part of the agreement made with Britain after the 1997 transfer of power.

TIME: Hong Kong's new leader is divisive figure

Despite the administrative separation from China, Hong Kong's 7 million residents are not allowed to vote for the territory's leadership.

That role is filled by a chief executive appointed by a small group of specially -selected influential people.

However, the territory's leadership has made moves toward introducing universal suffrage, and on Sunday millions are eligible to vote for 40 seats in the 70-member Legislative Council. The remainder will be appointed by a small group of electors.

Leung has denied the government back-down on national education was timed to avoid a voter backlash in Sunday's election, according to the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

"If it hadn't been for the decision of the last administration, national education would not have been on the agenda of this government," Leung said.

"I would rather concentrate on housing, poverty and other livelihood issues. I've held numerous talks with the chief secretary on major policymaking, [and] none of our conversations ever touched on national education," he added, according to the SCMP.

Saturday's back down follows a number of major protests, the most recent of which was on Saturday when an estimated 100,000 protesters gathered outside government headquarters, according to organizers.

More: Saving the 'Hong' of Hong Kong

CNN's Alexis Lai contributed to this report.

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