As this year marks the 50th anniversary of Hong Kong’s 1967 “leftist riots”, there have been calls among the indigenous leftist camp for vindication of the protests, which they have continued to refer to as a “patriotic act against British colonial tyranny”.
Recently, hundreds of riot “veterans” and key members of the Federation of Trade Unions (FTU) gathered at the Wo Hop Shek public cemetery to hold a massive memorial service to honor the leftist “martyrs” who died during the riots.
The FTU has every reason to be nostalgic about the 1967 events, because after all, their members were at the forefront of it 50 years ago. Over the years many riot “veterans” remained indignant at the fact that Beijing has been evasive about vindicating the movement and clearing the name of those who took part and died in the protests for the patriotic cause.
However, the current Beijing leaders apparently don’t see it that way, and have a different agenda to serve.
It is because as China is on the rise to global prominence, Beijing is working aggressively to refresh its international image.
Given that, the last thing the Beijing leaders want to do is to remind the rest of the world of the dark chapters in the history of the People’s Republic under the reign of Mao Zedong, which include the anti-rightist movement in the 50s, the Great Leap Forward campaign and above all, the Cultural Revolution.
As the local extension of the Cultural Revolution in the mainland, the 1967 riots have remained a highly sensitive and polarizing subject in Hong Kong over the years.
It is a taboo subject that Beijing would rather see people forget altogether, let alone vindicate it, for fear that it might open old wounds and reignite controversies in Hong Kong, thereby causing embarrassment to the current party leadership and threatening social stability in Hong Kong.
Hence, the reluctance to officially vindicate the protests which began as a minor labor dispute but later morphed into large-scale violent demonstrations against British colonial rule.
But one should bear in mind that the late Yeung Kwong, the former chairman of the FTU and leader of the leftist coalition during the 1967 riots, was awarded the Grand Bauhinia Medal by the Tung Chee-hwa administration in 2001. That, to a certain extent, amounted to an official acknowledgment of the “patriotic spirit” of the 1967 rioters.
As such, local leftist groups should have felt pleased with that and buried the subject forever. If they continue to insist on the vindication of that protests that cost the lives of hundreds of civilians, they would only be pushing their luck.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on May 10
Translation by Alan Lee
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