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New textbooks will teach that Hong Kong was never a British colony. Is China trying to rewrite history?

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Hong Kong is preparing to roll out new textbooks that will teach students that the city was never a colony of the British Empire, the New York Times reports. Northeastern experts say that by revisiting the interpretation of Hong Kong’s British past, China is not trying to rewrite history, but rather reassert something that has always been true for the Chinese government: Hong Kong is a part of sovereign China.

“There is a lot of interpretation in history,” says Philip Thai, director of Asian studies and a historian of modern China and modern East Asia. While modern American scholars have moved toward writing a more inclusive history, which incorporates various perspectives and is not as cut and dry, the Chinese government is pushing a state-centered narrative, Thai says, which is: British Hong Kong has always been illegitimate; Hong Kong was occupied by the British, but it was never a colony.

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