Why are the police tampering with 1967 riots history?

September 15, 2015 15:44
Hong Kong police have deleted some references to the Communists and glossed over some facts as they updated their official history of the 1967 riots. Photos: Ming Pao, Apple Daily

Under the Leung Chun-ying regime, almost all the moves made by government departments and agencies seem to have deep political undertones. 

On issues ranging from "patriotic" education materials in schools to TV broadcasting licenses, we have seen how authorities have been overly keen to serve Beijing's interests.  

Now there are attempts to even rewrite history to delete uncharitable references to China's Communists, as a revision of the police's official account of the 1967 riots shows.

The Hong Kong Police has just made some amendments to its official history of incidents in 1967, when large-scale Leftist riots broke out in the city.

Originating as a minor labor dispute, events escalated 48 years ago as pro-Communists and their sympathizers battled with the establishment. Inspired by happenings across the border, where the Cultural Revolution began to take root, there were calls for massive strikes and demonstrations against the British colonial rulers.

The campaign soon turned violent as Leftists resorted to bomb attacks, prompting a crackdown by the police. By the time the riots subsided, more than 50 people had been killed, including five police officers and some members of the media. 

The events mark a dark and sad chapter in Hong Kong's history, evoking painful memories for many elderly citizens as well as retired police officers.

But curiously, the police have now made some changes to their official version of those events.  

In the "Police History" section of the Hong Kong Police official website, the 1967 riots were earlier portrayed as a campaign of terror and bombings.

There had been references to "Communist militia" and "red fat cats", and there were suggestions that Communist sympathizers used the premises of some left-wing schools to make bombs.

However, the latest version has airbrushed some of the text, with sensitive wordings taken out, particularly those that cast the Chinese Communists in a negative light.

For example, the old version said: "Huge mobs marched on Government House, waving aloft the Little Red Book and shouting slogans". In the new account, the reference to the Little Red Book, which contains the thoughts of Mao Zedong, the then leader of Communist China, has been deleted.

Another thing that has been excised from the new version is the statement: "Bombs were made in classrooms of left-wing schools".

According to the old version, "Communist militia opened fire from the Chinese side of the border. Five policemen were cut down". But it has now been amended as "gunmen opened fire from the border area in Sha Tau Kok. Five policemen were shot dead."

Thus "Communist militia" was replaced by "gunmen", without stating their background.

Also, a statement that described local tycoons supporting the riots as "red fat cats" no longer exists in the new version.

Some political commentators believe the reference to "red fat cats" was deleted as some of them may be still active in Hong Kong society and are part of the pro-Beijing camp. 

The wording of "Hong Kong and Kowloon Committee for Anti-Hong Kong British Persecution Struggle", the key organizer of the 1967 protests, is also no longer found on the police website.

The Committee was blamed for the violent campaign that lasted almost a year, and the police had earned public respect for suppression of the riots.

But authorities now seem to be glossing over some of the unsavory aspects of the Leftist agitation as it could embarrass China's ruling Communist Party.

The 1967 riots affected social stability in Hong Kong, and it took many years for the colonial government to bring back things to normal.

James Arthur Elms, a retired police officer who was on duty during the 1967 riots, has criticized the changes made in the police history.

It's unwise to tamper with history, he said, arguing that deleting some references or withholding facts won't be good for society.

It's no different from what the Japanese government does with regard to whitewashing its history of China invasion in the 1930s to 1940s, Elms pointed out.

The police should be politically neutral in order to maintain social order and stability, just like what they did during the 1967 riots.

But now they are more or less becoming a tool for the government to help implement a broad political strategy.

During the Occupy movement last year, police came under fire for resorting to excessive force against pro-democracy activists and carrying out unnecessary arrests of opposition politicians.

Now the latest revelations on revision of the official account of the 1967 riots will only deepen the suspicions among the public that the force is no longer a neutral and impartial entity.

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EJ Insight writer