Convention centre chaos and riot troops in Bermuda: Hong Kong headlines from four decades ago
A journey back through time to look at significant news and events reported by the South China Morning Post from this week in history
Hong Kong’s perennial problems with overworked medical staff are nothing new. Four decades ago this week, stressed out public hospital interns demanded a cut in working hours. Elsewhere, pandemonium broke out at a dinner ball held at the convention centre in Wan Chai after the event became overbooked, while more serious mayhem erupted in the British territory of Bermuda, prompting troops to be deployed.
December 4, 1977
● According to the World Health Organisation, more Hong Kong women were dying from lung cancer than women anywhere else in the world. A spokesman for the Hong Kong Anti-Cancer Society estimated that 1,500 people would die of lung cancer in 1978, of whom 600 would be women. The WHO did not offer any reason why women were more prone to the disease.
● About 10,000 workers were forced to find new jobs as a result of cutbacks to textiles export quotas to the then European Economic Community (EEC). The changes were revealed after the signing of a new five-year textile agreement with the EEC in Brussels. The deal was the most restrictive the city had ever accepted.
December 5, 1977
● Unexpected chaos broke out at a “Happy Dinner Ball” at the convention centre on December 4 when too many paying guests turned up. The organisers had booked 800 seats at HK$80 per head but 1,100 people – all with tickets – showed up. The price of a ticket included a three-course dinner and various novelty acts including a fashion show and dancing.
● Some 150 British soldiers travelled by road early on December 5 to an airfield in central England for a flight to riot-torn Bermuda. The decision to send troops was made by then prime minister James Callaghan following reports from the Bermudian capital of widespread rioting and arson across the island in protest against the executions of two convicted murderers, both Afro-Bermudian.
December 6, 1977
● A row erupted following accusations that the University of Hong Kong Health Service was wasting public money and giving more benefits to its staff than its students. Claims were made that the staff were being underused and overpaid and that patients requiring X-ray examinations had been referred to a private clinic owned by the husband of the service’s director, who was also accused of being employed on expatriate terms even though she was a local.
Excessive executions, a Red Army blacklist and a house on The Peak for ‘only’ HK$4 million: headlines from four decades ago
● More than 104,000 students were expected to sit the first Academic Aptitude Test. The test, for Primary Six pupils, replaced the Secondary School Entrance Examination abolished in May that year.
December 7, 1977
● The southern Chinese city of Kunming had become a major disaster area because of the political influence of Jiang Qing, wife of then Chinese leader Mao Zedong, and her radical followers, claimed Radio Yunnan. The station quoted a senior official as saying that Kunming was in chaos because the so-called Gang of Four, four top national Chinese officials that included Jiang, and their “bourgeois factional network” had frenziedly pushed the gang’s counter-revolutionary political programme.
● Government hospital interns the night before had demanded a cut in working hours and more supporting staff to relieve their workload in laboratories and on critical duties. In a joint statement, 122 house officers expressed discontent and said they had been forced to work 33 hours continuously.
December 8, 1977
● There was talk of a limited duty lawyer scheme being introduced at magistrates’ courts in a bid to extend legal aid to these lower courts of the city. The news came following calls for more accessible legal aid, which proponents said was urgently needed because most defendants did not speak English.
December 9, 1977
● Hong Kong was awaiting clarification from Whitehall about reports that the British Foreign Office had agreed to allow each illegal immigrant from China to see a lawyer before being sent back over the border. Such a practice could have reduced repatriation policy to a “shambles”, sources told the Post. Since December 1974, 3,636 illegal immigrants had been returned to China, while “well under 100” had been permitted to stay.
● The Malaysian government rejected a British request to fly Concorde over its airspace, threatening to stop the first commercial supersonic flight to Southeast Asia, planned for the coming weekend. The objection to the droop-nosed supersonic jet was believed to be on environmental grounds.
December 10, 1977
● The fifth Chinese National People’s Congress was set to take place in February and Deng Xiaoping appointed president of the nation, sources in Taipei said.
● The newly-built headquarters of China Products Company in Causeway Bay was to be opened to the public on December 20, reports said. The department store would be the largest of the 101 China Products emporiums in Hong Kong and stocked with more than 40,000 consumer items from all parts of China. The company had invested about HK$100 million in the new store, but estimated its turnover in the first year would be about the same amount.
Remember A Day looks at significant news and events reported by the Post during this week in history