North Point tour takes participants back to the 1967 Hong Kong riots

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 06 October, 2013, 3:55am

Twenty people took a step back in time yesterday on a walking tour of the sites where some of the most tumultuous events in the city's history played out during the 1967 anti-colonial riots.

The one-off tour, organised by social enterprise Walk In, cost HK$200 and was booked out weeks ago. Those who signed up for the 20 places on the two-hour walk around the key communist stronghold of North Point were a mix of expatriates, mainlanders and Hongkongers - all wanting to understand the history of the former colony and some searching for insight into politics today.

City University professor Ray Yep Kin-man, who led the tour, said the legacy of the period was still relevant.

"The effect of this historical legacy can still very much be felt today, even though it happened half a century ago," Yep said.

The period is still seen as sensitive for the government and the Beijing-loyalist camp.

And some say its undercurrents are creeping back into Hong Kong society, Yep said.

"Since the riots, a majority of Hongkongers have turned to support the colonial government and have a very negative image of the leftists. They still feel that they were troublemakers," he said.

Yang Yi, a mainlander on the tour who was in the city for the National Day "golden week" holiday, agreed that the riots were at the root of many political problems the city is facing today.

"This period was perhaps the beginning, when Hongkongers had a strong feeling to go against the mainland power," Yang said.

He said he had seen news reports about the riots at the time and wanted to take the opportunity to find out what had really happened.

The tour started from the historic Sunbeam Theatre in North Point at 5.30pm.

The group was led past a series of buildings believed to have been used by the leftists to launch the riots.

They included a Chinese department store where leftists worked; the Kiu Kwan Mansion, where the police used force to crack down on the leftists after confirming it was a stronghold; the pro-Beijing Kiangsu and Chekiang Primary School; and the road off St Jude's Catholic Church, where two children were killed by home-made bombs called "pineapples" by the locals.

Paul Chan Chi-yuen, one of the founders of Walk In, said the group chose the 1967 riots as the theme because they believe it was an important episode in Hong Kong's history.

"We wanted to fully explore the cultural history or folk legends of old Hong Kong and tell it as a story," Chan said.

"Instead of reading from a textbook, a walking tour gives people a fun and colourful way to look at these important events.

"It's not just for those who are new to Hong Kong - I believe people who are born and raised here could have learned something surprising on this walk."

Chan said they could only offer a limited quota, as a bigger group may have caused inconvenience for those on the tour and for the public.

Among those on the tour was David, a Briton who has worked at an IT company in the city for three years. He said he found the period of history around the riots particularly fascinating as the clashes between West and East were what shaped the city today.

Also walking was Yonny, who was born in Hong Kong but raised in the United States. She returned to the city as a lawyer and was keen to find out what her parents had been through in the 1960s.

In 1967, what began as a small industrial dispute in May escalated into mass riots amid widespread social discontent fuelled by the influence of the Cultural Revolution on the mainland.

Leftist radicals, who demanded Hong Kong be returned to China, were seen as being responsible for organising rallies and mass strikes, attacking opponents and planting thousands of home-made "pineapple" bombs on the streets.

Their actions triggered police curfews and bloody crackdowns.

Historians describe the events of 1967 as a turning point for Hong Kong, and one which has had a huge impact on today's society.

In his book A Concise History of Hong Kong, University of Hong Kong history professor John Carroll notes that the riots prompted the British colonial government to improve workers' conditions, foster a sense of belonging, improve communication and expand education.

Chan, who was previously a political assistant to former secretary for food and health Dr York Chow Yat-ngok, said Walk In may organise another tour in the future based on a different theme.

One possibility was a walk aimed at investigating how financial activities developed in the city, he said.

Previous walking tours have included a look at the city's old shops and urban myths.