23 October 2016
Members of the Federation of Trade Unions, which organized the 1967 riots, hold a march to condemn the violent protests in Mong Kok on Feb. 9. Photos: RTHK, internet
Members of the Federation of Trade Unions, which organized the 1967 riots, hold a march to condemn the violent protests in Mong Kok on Feb. 9. Photos: RTHK, internet

Is Beijing trying to vindicate the 1967 riots?

Three weeks after the Mong Kok clashes between the police and localists, the pro-Beijing camp in Hong Kong has been harping on the incident with a sense of vindication.

Sure enough, some figures in the 1967 leftist riots are among the most vocal in condemning the Lunar New Year’s Day violence.

On Saturday, the 1967 Synergy Group, an organization of arrested anti-British rioters, raised the tone a notch by accusing the localists of inciting Hong Kong independence.

At the same time, spokesman Chan Shi-yuen said any comparison between the two will tarnish his group’s “honorable cause”.

Either Chan has not been listening or he simply refuses to see that the two incidents are different in scale and degree of violence that comparing them does not make sense in the first place.

But Hong Kong people know that the 1967 riots were orchestrated and carried out on a large scale by communist loyalists while the Mong Kok violence was random street clashes between the police and protesters.

The question is, were the Mong Kok clashes organized with a major political force behind them?

May be, but it’s doubtful given that leading opposition figures condemned the violence and quickly disowned the protesters.

Which makes us wonder why Chan’s group even had to mention any attempt to compare the 1967 riots with the Mong Kok clashes.

We can only guess Chan and his allies want Hong Kong people to talk about them and draw comparisons — but not stop there. They want them to draw conclusions. 

The 1967 rioters have reason to want to be treated differently.

They consider themselves heroes, not criminals under the British colonial administration, but they felt let down by Beijing when they were not given honorable mention, let alone some form of official recognition, after the handover.

The Hong Kong government has honored Yeung Kwong, who headed the pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions at the time of the leftist riots.

The others are waiting in the wings.

But now they have an opportunity not only to vindicate themselves but also to rationalize their violent campaign as a patriotic movement.

It all began with a not-so-subtle move by the police to rewrite their own version of events to shift the blame for the leftist riots from the communist loyalists.

But it backfired after the public and several retired senior officers accused the police of insulting Hong Kong and tampering with history.

With the Mong Kok clashes, many Hong Kong people, especially non-Beijing loyalists, are asking why the government was quick to characterize them as a riot.

The government has been so preocuppied with their aftermath it has had little time for anything else in the three weeks since the clashes.

Now we hear the 1967 rioters crowing with an “I told you so” smugness over what the Mong Kok protesters did to Leung Chun-ying’s government but not acknowledging what they themselves did to the sitting administration at the time.

The leftist riots rolled across Hong Kong and gripped its residents in fear for days, killing or wounding dozens.

The communist radicals also killed outspoken Commercial Radio broadcaster Lam Bun in a horrific bomb attack.

The broadcaster kept Lam’s legacy alive with a program inspired by his stinging social commentary. And the station itself remains the only Hong Kong broadcaster not controlled by pro-Beijing interests.

This is the backdrop against which pro-Beijing forces, including the 1967 Synergy Group, are trying to legitimize the leftist riots.

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EJ Insight writer

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