by Scott D. Seligman
As police move to take control of Queensway and city workers with power tools are dismantling the barricades, it’s worth remembering that the PRC government was not always so threatened by unrest in Hong Kong. When it was Britain’s ox that was getting gored, China actually encouraged it.
It was probably inevitable that the turmoil that was the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution would spill over into the then-British crown colony of Hong Kong. In 1967, not long after it began, leftist riots that got their start as a labor dispute in a Kowloon artificial flower factory morphed into a full-blown protest against British rule. In contrast to recent demonstrations, those protests were quite violent. Police clashed with demonstrators, who detonated home-made bombs throughout the colony. There was even a brief border skirmish in the New Territories, where mainland militias actually fired on the Hong Kong police.
Fifty-one people were killed in the melee, and more than 800 were injured before Premier Zhou Enlai ordered the leftist groups to desist. The bombs added a new word to the Cantonese lexicon: thenceforth bolo – a term meaning pineapple – was also used to refer to home-made explosives.
Propaganda left over from that era carries some highly ironic messages in 2014. One poster from 1967 is captioned, “Millions of Red Guards in the motherland firmly support the compatriots in Hong Kong and Kowloon in their patriotic anti-British uprising.” The sign urges them to “resolutely counterattack British imperialism.” A second placard is even more pointed: “Kowloon and Hong Kong compatriots are not to be bullied!”
Food for thought?
Scott D. Seligman is a writer, a historian and a retired corporate executive. He is the author of The First Chinese American: The Remarkable Life of Wong Chin Foo, Three Tough Chinamen and Chinese Business Etiquette, and co-author of the best-selling Cultural Revolution Cookbook and Now You’re Talking Mandarin Chinese. He lives in Washington, DC.