We can only learn from Hong Kong's 1967 riots if we look at them honestly

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 June, 2015, 6:11pm
UPDATED : Friday, 19 June, 2015, 6:11pm

I refer to Gary Cheung's article ("Tributes aside, leftists' instigating role in 1967 riots must not be whitewashed", May 26).

Presumably Cheung is saying the same mistakes can be made in the future if we do not learn the lessons of the unrest of 1967 in Hong Kong.

I am a retired chief superintendent and served in the Hong Kong Police Force between 1965 and 1998. I was deployed in the anti-riot company during the unrest in 1966 and in 1967. I knew leftists who participated in the anti-British struggle in 1967.

There was widespread inequality and social discontent in Hong Kong in the 1960s. It was much worse than what exists today and we have to ask what were the causes of the 1967 riots.

Mao Zedong launched the Cultural Revolution in 1966 to consolidate his power and defeat his opponents and Hong Kong leftists backed it the following year.

Since 1949, the Chinese government had launched a number of social campaigns, such as the Great Leap Forward, that failed miserably, causing hardship to the people. The Hong Kong leftists were aware of this.

Most of them realised that responding to the call to participate in the anti-British struggle in Hong Kong in 1967, by waving the "little red book" and shouting slogans, would not lead to the modernisation of China. So why did they still go ahead with their actions?

I think they did so because they believed that if the anti-British campaign succeeded, they would stand to lose or even be purged if they had failed to support the movement.

People now seek to be politically correct and put a different spin on what actually happened in 1967. They try to come up with other explanations.

As a Chinese living in Hong Kong, I believe we need to take an honest approach to what happened and learn lessons from it. If we teach future generations that those who actively participated in the anti-British movement did so out of patriotism or from a sense of justice then we will be distorting the truth. They participated in the movement because of a mixture of fear and ignorance.

I know some readers will judge my views as harsh. However, in 1967, the leftists in Hong Kong were misled and I do not want to see them misled again. We need to look with honesty at the events of 1967.

Robert Lee Chi-yuen, Causeway Bay