Politicians in Hong Kong have hit out at a new "patriotic education" textbook backed by the ruling Chinese Communist Party and issued for use in the territory's primary schools, saying it is a disguised attempt to brainwash schoolchildren in the former British colony.
Titled Primary Student Handbook of the Basic Law of Hong Kong, the comic-book style handout has sparked fresh fears that the Party is trying to indoctrinate local children with its own political message, rather than teaching them about the territory's mini-constitution known as the Basic Law.
Hong Kong lawmaker Yip Kin-yuen, who also heads the Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union, said the political views implied in the 62-page booklet were a step backward for the territory, which enjoys a high degree of political pluralism and judicial independence under the terms of its 1997 return to Chinese rule.
"It has a very obvious political thrust, and this political message has sparked a huge debate," Yip said.
"A lot of people don't agree with the assertion that "the [executive, legislative, and judicial] powers should work together," he said.
"Under such circumstances, we feel that there is a big problem with using public funds to support a project of this kind."
Education groups, parents, and students in Hong Kong have become increasingly wary of textbooks and publications backed by Beijing.
The Basic Law booklet was produced by the Joint Committee for the Promotion of the Basic Law of Hong Kong, which has Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who was selected by a Beijing-backed electoral panel, as an honorary adviser.
Last year, proposals for patriotic education in the Hong Kong's schools were shelved after thousands of protesters camped outside government headquarters for several weeks, dressed in black and chanting for the withdrawal from the curriculum of what they called "brainwashing" propaganda from the Communist Party.
Student activist group Scholarism, which spearheaded the "anti-brainwashing" campaign last year, said on its Facebook page on Wednesday that many parents had contacted them regarding "problematic" statements in the book.
The committee told local media the booklet "intended to show the key points of the Basic Law to primary school pupils through lively comics."
But many have hit out at its use of emotional rhetoric that reads more like patriotic propaganda than a serious introduction to constitutional law.
"Taiwan is a sacred part of our country’s territory," the booklet proclaims, disregarding the fact that many on the separately governed island would like to declare independence.
"To solve the Taiwan problem, and to realize the fatherland’s unification is our holy mission.”
Children are told that Chinese people only "became their own masters" after the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949.
And in one illustration, five policemen declare: "Whenever we see the national flag flying in the wind, and hear the national anthem, our hearts are filled with a sense of pride for being Chinese."
Legislator and political activist Leung Kwok-hung, known by his nickname "Long Hair," said he was shocked at the booklet's content, which he described as a continuation of the "patriotic education" scheme.
"After the patriotic education incident, the government said they wouldn't push this any further," Leung said. "While they haven't made it a separate component, they are going ahead with it anyway."
He called on schools to think very carefully about what they gave children to read.
"Maybe the kids won't be very interested, so they will learn it by rote," Leung said. "Once you learn something by rote, it's easy for it to become material for brainwashing."
Under the terms of its 1997 handover to China, Hong Kong has been promised the continuation of existing freedoms of expression and association for 50 years.
But journalists and commentators have pointed to a number of attacks on media organizations in recent months, and the departure of outspoken media personalities in the years since the handover of sovereignty to Beijing.
The territory's immigration service has also denied entry to prominent democracy activists and other individuals not approved by Beijing.
Journalists say that the Chinese Communist Party has redoubled its ideological work efforts in the territory following mass demonstrations on July 1, 2003 against proposed anti-subversion legislation, which the government later abandoned.
Recent polls carried out by University of Hong Kong have shown that anti-Beijing feeling among the Hong Kong population is running at record levels, while the number of the territory's citizens who identify themselves as "Chinese citizens" is at its lowest level in 13 years.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.