Fri, May 05, 2017 - Page 5 News List

HK remembers bloodiest violence 50 years later

AFP, HONG KONG

Hong Kong is unrecognizable now from the territory that 50 years ago was the scene of bloody riots, fueled by resentment of colonial rule and inspired by the Cultural Revolution unfolding in China.

Although memories of the chaos of 1967 have faded, the territory is facing a new era of turbulence as democracy activists take on Beijing and many ordinary residents still struggle to make ends meet.

What started as a labor dispute in an era of poverty and corruption, where many were jobless and living in shanties, became large-scale street battles fomented by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

The clashes between leftists and police lasted from May to December and left 51 dead, including five police officers.

Images from the time show bloodied residents and many protesters facing off against police.

Luk Tak-shing, now 70, was jailed during the riots and remembers police swooping on the union building where he worked.

He said he was beaten, arrested and imprisoned for unlawful assembly as 40 union workers were rounded up.

Luk had been helping workers organize a strike and he said he saw himself as part of a patriotic movement against colonial power.

“These ethnic hostilities had taken root in my heart from a young age,” said Luk, who attended a communist-run leftist school where he learned about historic injustices and racial inequality. “The scenes of police beatings infuriated me. Even now when I recount them I am very agitated.”

The riots followed the start of the Cultural Revolution, which saw mass purges of government opponents and followed similar unrest in Macau, then under Portuguese rule.

They began on May 6, when sacked workers attempted to prevent goods leaving an artificial flower factory and were arrested. Clashes, strikes and more arrests were followed by bomb attacks by protesters, including on tram stops and residential streets.

Calm was only restored in December, when then-Chinese premier Zhou Enlai (周恩來) ordered the rioting to stop.

Documentary maker Connie Lo (羅恩惠), whose film about the riots, Vanished Archives, is now showing in Hong Kong, described the scale of the violence as a watershed.

“After experiencing terrorism in the city, people saw the significance of having stability in life,” Lo said.

The violence was never repeated, and the territory was eventually handed back to China by Britain in 1997.

However, as fears grow that Beijing is squeezing its freedoms, issues around sovereignty and identity are again at the fore, with tensions exacerbated by sky-high housing prices and cost of living.

Last year, frustrations boiled over. Young activists calling for more autonomy or even independence from China were among protesters who fought running battles with police in Mong Kok.

Although far removed from the severity of the 1967 riots, with no fatalities, it was described as the territory’s worst violence since.

Lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung (梁國雄), a leftist known as “Long Hair,” said that while there are key differences between today’s protesters and those in 1967, the underlying issue for the public is the same — “a government they did not choose.”

The pro-Beijing government’s approach to democracy activists has become increasingly hardline, with a number of arrests of high-profile campaigners.

Leung says authorities are “brazenly repressive” and points out that some protesters from 1967 are now part of the establishment.

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