Religious textbooks published by the Hong Kong Catholic diocese have sparked outrage over its patriotic content, which called on primary school children to “contribute to their nation” and drew parallels between Biblical figures and Chinese folk heroes.
“God, thanks for making me Chinese. I will learn to love my country like Jesus did, in order to show my gratitude to you,” read a prayer in a chapter teaching the value of cultural traditions meant for eight-year-olds.
“We are sons and daughters of the same Chinese culture,” the textbook read. It encouraged students to learn traditions by referring to a Bible story about Jesus showing an exceptional understanding of Jewish culture as a child.
The textbook series, which include 12 volumes for primary school students, was published by the Religious and Moral Education Section under the Catholic Education Office. It has been endorsed by Cardinal John Tong, who currently heads the Hong Kong Catholic diocese.
Apple Daily found that 39 of the 58 chapters in the textbook series mentioned “China” or “country” and featured examples of Chinese historical figures and traditions.
In a chapter titled “God loves China” meant for seven-year-olds, authors included a poem titled “God loves the Chinese people and gave them harmonious hearts.” The chapter introduces the Italian missionary Matteo Ricci who arrived in China in the 16th century.
Another section compared Jesus’s calling of the disciples with the legend of Chinese patriot Yue Fei, who received a tattoo from his mother reading, “serve the nation with utmost loyalty.”
Ying Fuk-tsang, a theology professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said it was “forced and exaggerated” to say that Ricci’s missionary work had anything to do with harmony. He also criticized the choice to use Yue Fei as an example of religious devotion, saying it would teach students blind obedience.
Activist Isaac Cheng, spokesperson of Hong Kong Secondary Students Action Platform, blasted Cardinal Tong for “bowing down” to authoritarian China by adding patriotic elements into religious education, saying that there were clear signs of bias.
In a statement, the Religious and Moral Education Section defended the inclusion of Chinese elements, saying that the Catholic faith and traditional Chinese values can “complement each other” and students can learn the best of both worlds. The textbooks taught students to fulfill their duty as citizens but never encouraged unquestioning devotion, the publisher said.
The publisher also said most of the passages under dispute were first published in 2013 and 2014, and that the decision to include pedagogical elements about country and race was made in 2006.
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