China: Revising History in the Age of Nationalism

The 21st century has seen an explosion of nationalism across Western and Eastern nations alike. Having pride in one’s country is a staple of a healthy relationship between a citizen and their government. Yet, nationalism has become assimilated with negative connotations in recent years. Who is tainting it?

China and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) are not shying away from nationalism. On the contrary, they are focusing heavily on fostering Chinese nationalism by publishing a series of new textbooks that integrate national security and patriotism into the curriculum of Hong Kong’s students via a new set of citizenship and social development classes. In particular, these four textbooks will expand on the importance of having positivity and love for China while eliminating “poisoned” information that is intentionally false and misleading.

These changes come on the heels of a previous liberal studies course taught from 2009 until it was disbanded in favor of the newly minted citizenship and social development curriculum. The liberal studies course was cited as the cause for the 2019 protests in Hong Kong, which encouraged critical thinking from its student body.  Massive anti-government protests against the CCP from Hong Kong’s populace stemmed from a piece of legislation that was proposed to legalize the extradition of Hong Kong citizens to mainland China to stand trial. While the bill was never upheld and implemented, the CCP opted to revise their country’s history via newly published textbooks for current and future generations to consume.

The most extensive revisions found within these new textbooks, published online a week ago, focus on Hong Kong’s sovereignty and the Treaty of Nanking and Convention of Chuenpi. These two events occurred in 1841 and 1842, respectively, signaling the end of the First Opium War between the British and Chinese. The Convention of Chuenpi ceded the island of Hong Kong to the British, after which they renewed another 99 year-rule over their Hong Kong Colony on July 1, 1898, via the Second Convention of Peking. In 1984, British PM Margaret Thatcher signed a formal pact with Chinese leaders to approve the eventual 1997 peaceable transfer of the former British colony into a “one country, two systems” policy. Hong Kong was promised 50 years of semi-autonomy, which would expire in 2047, yet the aggressive policies and revision of school textbooks say otherwise.

The aggressive policy manifested in the 2020 national security law, which outlaws acts of dissent, labeling them as acts of terrorism, secessionism, collusion, and sedition. One of the four textbooks goes so far as to accuse the 2019 anti-government protests of “violent terrorist activities” that endangered China’s national sovereignty and security. However, the new textbook fails to mention the cause of the protests, which was the legislation the CCP sought to enact to extradite their dissenters from Hong Kong to stand trial in mainland China.

Acknowledging the semi-autonomy of the former British colony is the last thing on the CCP’s list of action items. Deep resentment from the Opium Wars continues to drive CCP policy nearly 200 years later. Having pride in your country should be celebrated and encouraged across all democracies. However, omitting history to infringe on fundamental human rights and freedom of speech while forcing citizens to comply with increasingly nationalistic fervor is not an ethical approach. Nations acknowledging treaties and pacts are necessary for the modern globalized economy to function and for the preservation of international geopolitical security. Nationalism can and should co-exist with freedom of expression.


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