Hong Kong textbook features cartoon of US invasion by gun-toting Mickey Mouse

A political cartoon forms part of the new teaching materials produced by local publisher Marshall Cavendish Education.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

A row has broken out over an image in new teaching materials to be used in Hong Kong’s schools that depicts Mickey Mouse and Goofy lookalikes in military uniforms, fighter planes dropping hamburgers instead of bombs, and evil versions of McDonald’s characters Ronald McDonald and Grimace.

The political cartoon, depicting a “cultural invasion” by US multinational firms, appears in the first set of books under a controversial planned overhaul of the liberal studies subject.

On Thursday, publisher Marshall Cavendish Education responded to the criticism and told the Post the books were “transitional teaching materials” mainly for teachers’ reference, and might be updated after consulting educators.

The textbooks for the new senior secondary subject have also come into the spotlight also because they retained sensitive concepts including civil disobedience, which some educators feared might break the national security law which came into effect last June.

The cartoon forms part of the new teaching materials produced by local publisher Marshall Cavendish Education. 
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

Liberal studies was first introduced in 2009 as a mandatory course aimed at raising social awareness and developing critical thinking skills among students. But in recent years, pro-Beijing politicians have accused the subject of leading to the radicalisation of youth during the 2019 anti-government protests.

Under an overhaul by education authorities, the subject will be renamed “citizenship and social development”, while its content will be cut in half, with a stronger focus on elements including national security, patriotism, national development and lawfulness.

The first batch of Form Four pupils are expected to be taught about the new subject starting this September, but most teaching materials and a detailed curriculum framework are still not ready.

The Post has reviewed one new set of reference books by Marshall Cavendish Education – one of the main publishers of liberal studies textbooks – after a draft version was recently distributed to teachers.

There will be three themes, instead of the existing six, under the subject’s overhaul, namely “Hong Kong under ‘one country, two systems’”, “Our country since reform and opening-up” and “interconnectedness and interdependence of the contemporary world”.

Accompanying the cartoon of the cultural invasion are teaching guidelines suggesting pupils can learn how multinational corporations entering local markets in developing countries have invaded local cultures. The message is largely one of anti-cultural imperialism.

The same cartoon was also used in a 2018 edition of the publisher’s liberal studies textbook.

The chapter encouraged pupils to discuss Western influence on global values, as well as whether cultural homogenisation or diversity had been a result of that.

The new books also mention the concepts of judicial independence, the importance of the rule of law, as well as civil disobedience – accompanied by a photo of the 2014 Occupy Central movement – although it emphasises that participants should accept the legal consequences of their actions.

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Some negative social problems in mainland China have also been retained, such as left-behind children in rural areas. Other parts focus on China’s enhancement of quality of life and national strength, as required in education authorities’ proposed framework for the new subject.

Veteran liberal studies teacher Chan Chi-wa believed the cartoon depicting a US cultural invasion was “a bit exaggerated”, and thought the publisher should consider reviewing its inclusion.

“With [characters] wearing military uniforms and armed, it seems a little bit exaggerated,” Chan said. “But when we teach students about globalisation, it is not something that is black and white … we will let them know [the different viewpoints].”

The 2018 edition of textbooks materials produced by Marshall Cavendish Education.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

Chan, who has taught the subject for more than 10 years, believed Marshall Cavendish Education might also review whether the final version of the book would include the concept of civil disobedience, given the concerns teachers have about discussing the idea.

“Civil disobedience means breaking the law – something that the government does not encourage,” he said. “[Some believe that] under civil disobedience acts which affect government operations, it might potentially breach the national security law.

“Many teachers might handle such issues with caution or even simply avoid discussing that altogether.”

A spokeswoman from the Education Bureau, who expressed “deep regret” over the new books, said they had not been vetted by officials, and should not be regarded as textbooks for the citizenship and social development subject.

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The publisher said many details of the new subject were still not confirmed, and all content in the book came from last year’s edition, which had already been vetted by education officials.

A representative said it had already contacted the Education Bureau after growing public attention, and it was still too early to say what a final version of the book might look like.

Last year, when liberal studies textbooks produced by six key publishers were “voluntarily” vetted by the government for the first time under a new scheme, phrases such as “separation of powers” had been removed, while some criticisms of the Hong Kong and mainland governments were replaced.

The Post has approached McDonald’s and Disney for comment.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.