Like a burst of spring thunder China’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution arrived in Hong Kong in May 1967. The catalyst was a strike at a factory which made plastic flowers – one of the colony’s biggest exports at the time.
Labour disputes were not uncommon in Hong Kong, nor were violent clashes between workers and police. This time, however, there was a political element. The Little Red Book of Mao’s Thought was everywhere, along with loud and violent calls to overthrow “British fascism, imperialism and tyranny.”
Bloody clashes between demonstrators and police outside Government House on 22 May led to 167 arrests and prompted David Bonavia, The Times of London’s Hong Kong stringer, to observe that the worlds of Mao Tse-tung (Mao Zedong) and Somerset Maugham had come face to face – and both had retired baffled. Continue reading
There’s a mountain in Kowloon called the Lion Rock which has come to embody the spirit of Hong Kong. It’s a spirit that had yet to rise in February 1967, when my family disembarked from the SS Chusan at Ocean Terminal and settled into a small room at the YMCA in Tsim Sha Tsui. But its first stirrings were only a few months away.
Education was not compulsory in Hong Kong in 1967 and children from poor families either went without or crammed their learning in between working and caring for their siblings.
It was perfectly legal for women and children to work a maximum of 60 hours each week with permitted overtime of 100 hours per year. Prosecutions of firms violating this maximum were not uncommon but there was a simple way round it: Take home piece work! Fun for all the family! Continue reading
When official sources fail, good journalists shine. One of the best was the BBC’s Anthony Lawrence, who died in Hong Kong in September 2013 at the venerable age of 101. One of his greatest stories is an example of how news, like desperate people fleeing horrific situations, has a way of getting out. What would he have made of coverage of Australia’s refugee story? Continue reading
The Bolshoi Ballet’s production of Soviet-era The Bright Stream turned out to be anything but a strident celebration of the nobility of labour. Instead it was the lightest, loveliest, funniest work I’ve ever seen. Continue reading
When the Baxters shipped up to Hong Kong in 1967 we arrived at a turbulent time in the little colony’s history. The Cultural Revolution in China was in full swing and by May had spilled noisily and often dangerously on to the streets of Hong Kong. Government House was swathed in big character posters and besieged by demonstrators, shouting and brandishing their Little Red Books. Continue reading