HK police and their historical links with Shandong

July 22, 2019 18:30
The so-called Shandong Coppers, at their peak, accounted for one-fifth of Hong Kong's police manpower. Photo: Internet

If you delve into the history of Hong Kong's police, you might come to know about the existence of a very unique unit known as the “Lu patrolmen” within the force in the past, with “Lu” referring to the Shandong province in the mainland.

The Lu patrolmen were predominantly natives of the city of Weihaiwei (now known as Weihai), which was under British rule between 1898 and 1930.

Those patrolmen recruited by the British colonial authorities to serve in Hong Kong’s police force were often dubbed the “Shandong Coppers” (“山東差”) by the local people back in those days.

In its early years, the police force of Hong Kong was mainly made up of British white people, people of South Asian descent such as Punjabi Sikhs, and Cantonese people, as well as recruits from Weihaiwei in what is today's Shandong province in China's northeast.

In the wake of the Amritsar Massacre in April 1919, London began to overhaul the composition of the police forces in its colonies around the globe out of concerns about the loyalty of Sikh and Islamic police officers.

For example, in British Malaya, the Malay States Guides, which was mainly formed by the Sikhs, was dissolved.

In Hong Kong, the colonial government’s distrust of local Chinese quickly deepened following the Seamen's Strike of 1922, during which local Cantonese policemen were accused of pulling their punches towards their compatriots across the border.

As a result, the colonial administration began to look for new sources of manpower for the Hong Kong police force.

And the natives of the former British colony of Weihaiwei appeared to be exactly the right candidates it was looking for.

In the eyes of the British colonial authorities, the Weihai people were just as loyal and battleworthy as the Gurkhas.

In 1900, the Weihai people were recruited to crack down on the Boxer Uprising in their capacity as “British troops”.

Then during the First World War, many people from Weihai were once again recruited to provide logistical work support for the British military.

After the end of the Great War, Edward Dudley Corscaden Wolfe, the then Captain Superintendent of the Hong Kong police, who had been assigned to the city of Yantai in the Shandong province before he came to Hong Kong, began to embark on a massive police recruitment campaign targeting the Weihai people.

The first unit of Weihai recruits arrived in Hong Kong in 1923. And the recruitment drive continued even after Weihai had been returned to the Republic of China under the Kuomintang regime.

As of 1956, the “Shandong Coppers”, at their peak, accounted for one-fifth of Hong Kong's police manpower.

In order to win their hearts and minds as well as ensure their loyalty, these Shandong coppers were entitled to special allowances, and were given priority over their Cantonese colleagues when it comes to getting allocated places in the police quarters.

Often considered by their British superiors as being relatively simple-minded, loyal and reliable, not to mention that they couldn’t communicate with their Cantonese and Indian colleagues, the Lu patrolmen quickly replaced Indian police officers’ original duties including residential security guard duty for high-ranking colonial officials and white neighborhoods in the city.

The Shandong Coppers also played a key role in suppressing major social upheavals such as the October 10 riots in 1956.

More importantly, they also became the backbone of the newly established Emergency Unit of the Hong Kong police force, which is charged with handling severe and emergency situations.

Today, the “Shandong Coppers” have become history, and it is not easy for the HKSAR police to simply duplicate the approach adopted by the former British colonial authorities.

However, it seems a similar mindset still exists among the current police leadership, under which new recruitment approaches such as academic qualification requirements have been adopted in order to create a new sense of identity within the ranks.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 18

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal