Testy inmates, a citywide gang war and the society of girl watchers: headlines from 40 years 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
Prison security in Hong Kong came under the spotlight four decades ago this week as conditions at a Lantau facility were tipping inmates over the edge. Meanwhile, police were on full alert as they feared a gang war could break out with mainland mobsters trying to take control of local triads. On a lighter note but also concerning law and order, junior police officers planned to set up a “mini force” to serve the community when they were off duty.
January 1, 1978
● China planned to increase its exports of oil and other products to buy advanced equipment from other countries, the New China News Agency reported. A leading member of the State Planning Commission was quoted by the agency as saying: “We will sell more and more petroleum, coal and other products to buy advanced foreign equipment.”
● British prime minister James Callaghan declared 1978 as a year of economic recovery for Britain and made clear his government did not want to fight in a general election that year. In a New Year message issued by Labour Party, Callaghan said 1977 had been a pendulum but the situation had finally swung Britain’s way. He further added that Britons would reap some rewards with further tax cuts, and a noticeable improvement in the nation’s standard of living.
January 2, 1978
● Hong Kong marine police raided a private yacht moored off Junk Bay and arrested 80 men and a woman for allegedly attending a blue film screening. Detectives made the raid after several weeks of investigation. They believed the show was only for local residents. The fee for the “cruise” was HK$75 per person.
● In the aftermath of riotous new year celebrations in the Philippines, 80 people were injured amid firecracker explosions. The acts defied the martial law regime’s fireworks ban. One youth lost his hand in a home-made bomb blast, while another was felled by gunfire and two others were sent to hospital with stab wounds as Manila welcomed 1978.
January 3, 1978
● US President Jimmy Carter told Secretary of State Cyrus Vance that a “cold and very blunt” letter should be sent to Indian Prime Minister Morarji Desai, because of the latter’s reluctance to accept full international safeguards for nuclear power. The US cut off shipments of enriched uranium to India after New Delhi, which had not signed the international non-proliferation treaty, detonated a nuclear device in 1974.
● Sophia Loren was chosen as the “World’s Most Watchable Wife” by the International Society of Girl Watchers. The society named the most watchable women in 10 categories that included: Mother, TV actress, Comedienne, Singer, Golfer, Sportscaster, Actress, Model and Film Actress. The selections were made based on candidate accomplishments and personal appearance.
January 4, 1978
● Junior policemen were hoping to set up their own “mini force”, comprising patrols by off-duty officers, late-night escort services for people afraid of being attacked on the way home, and two crime reporting hotlines. The innovative scheme was the brainchild of the newly formed Junior Police Officers’ Association, which wanted to show that rank-and-file officers were willing to fight crime even when they were off duty.
● The managing director of Commercial Television, Stephen Lam, categorically denied the station had lured top executives, leading stars and producers from other media companies by offering huge salaries, reportedly twice or even three times that of their present earnings. An industry insider said if the reported salary offers were true, it would be detrimental to the sector as a whole.
January 5, 1978
● Prisoners were being “turned into animals” in Ma Po Ping jail on Lantau Island and conditions were so “disgraceful and degrading” that the prison was on the cusp of a full-scale riot. The claims were made by former police superintendent Ben Thompson, who was freed after serving 24 months for corruption in Ma Po Ping.
● Hong Kong police were concerned about the rising power of the Tai Huen Chai (Big Circle Boy) gang, believed to be trying to seize control of all local triads. Police suspected that Big Circle gang members, who were mainland Chinese, were planning to take over the local triads and consequently cause a citywide gang war.
January 6, 1978
● Discussion on the war between Cambodia and Vietnam was believed to be a top-level priority at US diplomatic talks in Hong Kong the day before. The two-day policy review by US government officials and ambassadors from 14 Asian countries got off to an early start and continued until late in the afternoon. Other topics covered included trade problems between the US and Japan, and the continuing question of normalising relations between Beijing and Washington.
● A London gynaecologist helped eight lesbian couples to have babies through artificial insemination. The couples were introduced to the doctor through an organisation for lesbians which was running women-only discos and social evenings.
January 7, 1978
● The entrance fee for Hong Kong’s newest country club was upwards of HK$90,000. The Hilltop Country Club offered three categories of membership – individual, company and organisation tiers. The HK$25 million club, to be built in Lo Wai in the northern New Territories, would include a golf course, tennis courts, swimming pool, billiard and card rooms, as well as a gym.
● Wreaths began appearing in the Square of Heavenly Peace as China prepared for the second anniversary of the death of Zhou Enlai. The late prime minister was one of the country’s most popular leaders.