Hong Kong should welcome September 3 holiday

Alice Wu says marking the pain of war with a holiday may actually be useful for us - once we get past the cries of political interference

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 May, 2015, 9:00pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 17 May, 2015, 9:00pm

We must thank the Democratic Party for inspiring a new angle in the public holidays debate, which has long been a boring battle over dollars and cents. Democrat lawmaker Sin Chung-kai last week called the one-off national holiday on September 3, to mark the 70th anniversary of the Japanese surrender in the second world war, a "political holiday".

Well, of course it's a "political holiday", whatever he means. The fact that governments set such holidays in the first place makes them all, all around the world, political holidays.

But perhaps Sin was simply pointing out that we have to accommodate our nation's system, which allows it to announce a public holiday less than four months in advance, as opposed to the usual practice here, in our separate system. And perhaps this makes for an interesting case study for scholars looking at the implementation of "one country, two systems".

Maybe Sin felt uncomfortable about Beijing's power to declare a national holiday. But, for the rest of us Hongkongers, this is an opportunity to brush up on some history: we used to mark the occasion, albeit differently, a few days ahead of September 3.

Once upon a time, we called it Liberation Day, commemorating the handover of Hong Kong by the Imperial Japanese Army to the British Royal Navy, marking the end of the three years and eight months of Japanese occupation here on August 30, 1945. We didn't actually celebrate it on the date, pre-1997; Liberation Day was set for the last Monday in August.

We must not underestimate the "political" significance of public holidays. In the first bill introduced by the chief executive to the Provisional Legislative Council before the handover, two public holidays for the second half of 1997 were suspended. "The Saturday preceding the last Monday in August" and "Liberation Day, being the last Monday in August" were replaced by five holidays, including the "Sino-Japanese War Victory Day" in August. But that was short-lived and was formally removed from the list of public holidays in 1999.

Interestingly, Sin, who was a lawmaker in 1998, should have remembered that his Democratic Party colleagues were pretty angry about that abolition, according to Hansard's records.

Perhaps "politics" dictates that this year, we remember on September 3 those who fought, suffered, were killed, tortured, raped and made prisoners of war. We can learn more about the past horrors - like the young women at the Happy Valley Racetrack Emergency Hospital who were raped on Christmas Day 1941, and the routine executions at King's Park, where people were used for beheading, shooting and bayonet practice. It's more than just an extra day off. We may not like the "politics" of it, but it can be more than just "politics".

I'm actually angry that it's won't be a permanent addition to our public holidays. It could, for instance, have been a day to raise awareness and demand recognition of the struggles of comfort women throughout Asia who were forced into sexual slavery, maimed and killed before and during the second world war.

Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA