Tensions of 1967 riots echo today, says director of new drama

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 June, 2014, 4:25am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 June, 2014, 5:13am

The deadly 1967 riots are seen by many as a watershed in Hong Kong's history - but for drama director Wu Hoi-fai, the days of havoc hold another message: resorting to violence won't help.

"The lesson of history is when people resort to violence, no one, especially Hongkongers, will buy it," said Wu, artistic director of Pants Theatre Production.

Wu's group is creating a drama about the disturbances that intensified anti-communist feeling in Hong Kong and entrenched divisions between the left and mainstream society.

Although he was born in 1969, two years after the riots, he sees echoes of the tensions today.

"Society is now more polarised. Some people even compare it with the 1967 riots," he said.

The riots can be traced back to a labour dispute at a factory in San Po Kong in early May, 1967, at a time when corruption was rampant and people's living and working conditions were poor.

Throughout that summer, unionists and pro-communist sympathisers staged demonstrations across the city.

The Cultural Revolution was gearing up on the mainland and some of the leftists displayed Mao Zedong's "little red book" while they marched.

Police responded in force, prompting a series of tit-for-tat rallies and crackdowns. The stand-off escalated when extremists planted bombs.

The confrontation calmed down in December, after then premier Zhou Enlai expressed Beijing's disapproval.

The riots claimed 51 lives; 15 people were killed by bombs.

Wu said that when people talked about the riots, many remembered only the bombs, forgetting the labour dispute that started the disturbances.

Today, despite the growing use of violence by protesters in Hong Kong, such as those who stormed the Legislative Council to oppose plans to build new towns in the northeastern New Territories, he does not expect history to repeat itself. "Do we really need to be extreme to achieve what we want? I think there should be other ways."

After nine months of preparation, Wu and his team have come up with a script that recreates the 1967 riots through the eyes of rioters, police officers and Hongkongers who were there.

"It was hard to gather witness accounts as it's been years," he said. "Even though we've talked to many people who took part or experienced the riots, some of their memories fade."

The two-hour drama, called 1967, is sponsored by the Arts Development Council and will be staged in Cantonese from August 1 to 3 at the Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui. Tickets cost HK$160 and HK$220.