HONG KONG (Reuters) - More than 1,000 Hong Kong university students boycotted class on Tuesday, demanding the withdrawal of a patriotic Chinese curriculum they say amounts to Communist Party brainwashing.
Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997, is a freewheeling capitalist hub which enjoys a high degree of autonomy and freedom, but Beijing's Communist leaders have resisted public pressure for full democracy.
The protest came just three days after Beijing-backed leader Leung Chun-ying backed down on a plan to make the curriculum compulsory after tens of thousands of people took to the streets claiming it amounted to mainland propaganda that glosses over the darker aspects of Chinese rule.
The curriculum will be voluntary, not compulsory, but that was not enough for the striking students.
Dressed in black and huddled under a sea of umbrellas to shield them from the blazing sun, they staged a four-hour rally on the grounds of Chinese University in the New Territories.
"It makes no difference. Some schools depend on government support so they may feel pressure if they don't impose national education," said Winky Wong, a student at City University of Hong Kong. "It's all excuses. We don't believe in government excuses."
Kenneth Chan, associate professor of government and international studies at Baptist University, said children should study Chinese history if they wanted to understand the country better.
"There's no need to have a separate national education," he said. "This move came to us as a political assignment imposed by above (Beijing)."
Leung, speaking ahead of the university protest, urged students to think about what their demands amounted to.
"If the government withdraws it, that would be tantamount to forbidding schools that want to teach this course from doing so," he said. "I believe this way of doing things is inappropriate for Hong Kong which is a society that values freedom and diversity."
The city of 7 million voted for a new legislature on Sunday, a day after Leung backed down on the education scheme. He emerged the big winner as pro-democracy groups failed to capitalize on the recent protests against China-linked policies.
(Reporting by Sisi Tang and Tan Ee Lyn; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree and Nick Macfie)