Thursday, January 04, 2007

Hong Kong: A different pair of glasses

Hong Kong labour activist Au Loong-Yu was born in Hong Kong in 1956. Au describes growing up in Hong Kong, Hong Kong's Maoists, Trotskyists and anarchists in the 1970s, June 4 1989, the impact of Chinese sovereignty on the former British colony, Pacific Rim protests against the WTO, and mobilizing around the 2008 Olympics. A taster:
British rule in the postwar era can be divided into two periods either side of 1971. In the earlier period, there was a form of spatial apartheid—the Tai Ping Shan area was restricted to Westerners—and conditions were much more oppressive: working hours were long, wages low and strike activity ruthlessly suppressed by the colonial government. National oppression took a very visible form: nearly all high-ranking posts were occupied by Brits, and English was the only official language; at school, we would be refused permission to go to the bathroom if we didn’t ask in English.

The British clamped down hard on the labour movement after the 1967 events—perhaps 4,000 or 5,000 trade unionists were sacked, and thousands put in prison. This took a toll from which the Maoist unions never recovered. Nevertheless, by the early 70s, pressure had begun to mount on the British, both from within and from without, to make some reforms in order to maintain any legitimacy. Hong Kong students and social activists were agitating for Chinese language rights, and against the possible transfer of Diao Yu Island to Japan. A key turning point came on 7 July 1971, when the colonial government harshly repressed a demonstration by radical nationalist youth movements. A wave of further protests ensued, and the government was forced for the first time to permit demonstrations. After that student groups mobilized with some success against official corruption, and in 1973 pressured the government into forming an Independent Commission, which continues to function. Externally, China’s rising international status — its assumption of a Security Council seat in 1971, Nixon’s visit and so on — was an important factor pushing the British into granting limited political freedoms.
New Left Review

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