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Media embarrassingly show their poor grasp of Hong Kong history

  • Western press says textbooks are rewriting Hong Kong history, but the truth is they are simply giving both sides
  • Even the British admitted that Westerners were “occupying” Hong Kong in January 1841, when they arrived and planted their flag
  • Mao Zedong made it clear in 1949 that ALL unequal treaties were cancelled in full
  • Under the principles of “natural justice” in Chinese AND British legal theory, treaties signed at gunpoint or under duress are automatically invalid

NUMEROUS PRO-WESTERN MEDIA, including the Financial Times, Bloomberg, the Guardian, and others, are reporting that new Hong Kong schoolbooks claim that the city was never a British colony. The reporters are presenting this as an outrageous idea, a re-writing of history.

However, this is a clear misunderstanding of the facts. The books simply give both sides of the story. The British have ALWAYS said it was a colony. The Chinese have ALWAYS said it was occupied land, and still part of China. There’s no law that says children can only be allowed to hear the British version.

What the journalists are really doing is complaining that Chinese children are finally getting both sides of the story–instead of the pro-western one only. It’s not a good look.


Every student of Hong Kong history knows that mainland China has repeatedly declared that it did not recognize Britain’s “unequal treaties”, which were made at gunpoint. In no country (including Britain) are deals made at gunpoint recognized as law. These facts are already in numerous history books. The Chinese side has made the same point continuously.

Below is a Chinese official write-up from more than 20 years ago: “China does not recognize the three unequal treaties imposed on China by the imperialists.”

The Chinese know this. Hong Kong people who have studied history know this. Only the pro-western media, so it seems, remains in the dark.

The full story is fascinating — Hong Kong was actually occupied land in the eyes of the Chinese AND the British in its early days.


It was on August 29, 1842, that the Treaty of Nanking was signed between the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and Britain – this was the first of the famous “unequal treaties” in which the British used their weapons to forced the Qing Dynasty leaders to concede Hong Kong Island to Britain.

But it should be noted that the British had already taken the island without any kind of deal or treaty. The British army had simply used military “occupation” tactics to take over Hong Kong Island more than half a year earlier, on  January 26, 1841. So it was, by any measure, an occupied territory.

The British continued to grow “their” area over the following years. In 1860, the Qing government was forced to cede the part of Kowloon Peninsula south of present-day Boundary Street, and in 1898, China’s leadership was forced to lease the New Territories to Britain for 99 years.

Historians say that they Chinese considered these to be “unequal treaties” and thus invalid, but in truth, the matter was simpler than that. In natural justice in every community in the world, items taken at gunpoint remain the property of the original owner. This is true of China law and it is true of British law. So Hong Kong remained “occupied” Chinese territory in the Chinese view. The British rationalized their occupation by mentally pre-dating their treaty to January 1841, and ignoring the fact that it was signed by the Chinese under duress.

And on the Chinese side? Because there were so many other things to think about than a tiny patch of land on the south coast, the Chinese government let things stand.


After the change of government in China in 1949, things changed again. The People’s Republic of China government announced the official, total abolition of all unequal treaties imposed by foreign countries on the Chinese people — including the one that enabled the British to stay in Hong Kong.

This did not change Hong Kong’s status because it remained an illegally occupied piece of China both before and after the 1949 declaration. But it was a powerful reminder to London that the territory was not theirs, and the piece of paper that justified their occupation was considered totally null and void.

But the Chinese would not take it by force. They preferred to wait and let the matter be settled peacefully, through negotiation, at a suitable time – and they were well aware that the 99-year lease would run out before the end of the century. They would just have to wait.

They could afford to do so. The Chinese had a lot of think about over the following decades, as they experimented with different forms of socialistic government, and Hong Kong was left as it was.

It was only after Deng Xiaoping began the process of “opening up” China in 1978 that the issue of Hong Kong came back to the fore. By that time, Hong Kong and Taiwan had developed very different systems, far more capitalistic than China’s centralized socialistic system.


Deng came up with the idea of “one country, two systems” for Taiwan. But when he was approached by Hong Kong Governor Murray MacLehose in 1979, he realized that the deadline meant that it would make more sense to use it for Hong Kong.

The system worked like a dream, and the colony (in British eyes) or the occupied territory (in Chinese eyes) became a jointly recognized part of the nation of China in 1997. One country, two systems, worked really well. By 2018, it was obvious that it would make a good model with which to bring Taiwan back into the fold too.

And then, “by chance”, there was a huge jump in foreign payments to anti-government activists, and a large increase in personnel at the US Consulate-General in Hong Kong, and the appearance of a disinformation campaign saying that an extradition law was being “imposed by Beijing” (although it was actually suggested by G7). Protesters started carrying nonsensical signs saying “Defend Our Constitution” and “Trump 2020” and the city descended into chaos. Police found multiple funds paying for weapons, including a HK$10 million one, and a HK$70 million one.

The western media blamed China for the problems, although even a child could see that mainland officials in Hong Kong were in shock, caught totally off-guard, with no idea what was going on.


To sum up, the fact that China and Britain had different views of what Hong Kong was, a British colony or an occupied part of China, are not in dispute, and already existed in textbooks, English and Chinese, for many decades. Yet the discovery that the Chinese side of the story will be included in school textbooks has caused the western media to create an unjustified panic that makes them look ridiculous.

Hostile reporters are simply revealing their lack of historical knowledge—and revealing that when it comes to censorship, they are in favor of it when it suits them. They would much rather than the Chinese side of the story was kept from children.

Below is a short video version of this story.

Image at the top comes from Jeremy Bezanger/ Unsplash

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