Propaganda in Hong Kong: "If there are problems with the brain, then it needs to be washed"

Efforts by Beijing to brainwash Hong Kong children spark protests.

Thousands of people marched in Hong Kong on Sunday in protest against the Chinese government's plan to introduce what been branded by many as compulsory patriotism lessons.

The New York Times reports (£):

The new curriculum is similar to the so-called patriotic education taught in mainland China. The materials, including a handbook titled “The China Model,” describe the Communist Party as “progressive, selfless and united” and criticize multiparty systems, even though Hong Kong has multiple political parties.

Critics liken the curriculum to brainwashing and say that it glosses over major events like the Cultural Revolution and the Tiananmen Square crackdown. It will be introduced in some elementary schools in September and be mandatory for all public schools by 2016.

It's not just critics who have likened the curriculum to brainwashing, however. The Financial Times has an astonishing quote (£) from the chairman of the "China Civic Education Promotion Association", Jiang Yudui:

If there are problems with the brain, then it needs to be washed, just like dialysis for kidney patients.

The organisers estimated turnout at 90,000 (although authorities pegged it at 32,000), and it is just the latest in a series of increasingly well-attended protests against what are seen as attempts by mainland China to bring the special administrative region, which was transferred to Beijing in 1997 with the promise that it would retain with the promise it would its own legal system, money, borders, and, of course Olympic team, under its wing. The tone has not always been civil, as the FT adds:

Earlier this year, a group of Hong Kong citizens waged a campaign against mainland visitors – whose number reached 28m last year, or four times the city’s population – which included taking out incendiary full-page newspaper advertisements describing them as “locusts”.

Demonstrators display a banner reading 'withdraw brain washing education' in Hong Kong. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.