Protests by horse handlers, a Hong Kong hitman in New York and shady moneylenders: 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
Advances in artificial intelligence and robots may be threatening millions of jobs now, but this was not the case four decades ago when the first robot postman was forced to retire from the Pentagon after a short trial.
Over in Hong Kong, a government land auction saw the sale of various lots and commercial properties for extraordinarily low prices, a far cry from today’s red-hot property market.
January 15, 1978
● Striking Jockey Club “mafoos” (horse handlers), who forced the cancellation of a Happy Valley race meeting the day before, continued to stage a sit-in at the Shan Kwong Road stables. The spokesman for the mafoos said their industrial action would continue until the Jockey Club agreed to their demands over the pay structure at the new Sha Tin Racecourse. Mafoos at the new Sha Tin track earned twice as much as their Happy Valley counterparts because they each looked after two horses instead of one.
● Chinese surveyors added another 300 miles (482 kilometres) to the Yangtze River, pushing it up in the world league tables ahead of the Mississippi River and just behind the Nile and the Amazon in length.
A ‘live wire’ gang, fake $50 bank notes and the American involved in the Cultural Revolution: headlines from four decades ago
January 16, 1978
● Foreign holders of British passports would lose their right to settle in Britain under a new immigration law being drafted by the opposition Conservative Party. If passed, the measure would immediately affect more than 30,000 Asians living in Kenya and Tanzania. The draft legislation intended to drastically reduce immigration into Britain and called for more rigorous border checks to halt clandestine immigration; stricter quotas would also be enforced.
● A proposal to raise taxi fares was criticised by an Urban Council member who warned that it would overburden the bus system and make more taxis available, benefiting those who could regularly afford cab fares. Taxi associations proposed to charge HK$2 for every mile, rather than the existing HK$2 for the first mile and HK$1 for subsequent miles.
January 17, 1978
● Britain racked up a £59 million surplus in the previous financial year; this was the first time it had been in the black since 1972, according to government figures. The same figures also revealed that North Sea oil had helped halve the country’s trade deficit from a massive £3.57 billion in 1976 to £1.65 billion in 1977.
January 18, 1978
● Two land sale records were written the previous day when the government netted more than HK$125 million from four lots at a public auction; a flat and a shop in Kowloon were also sold at the same auction. The 68 sq ft shop in Nathan Road was sold for HK$29,000 while the 620 sq ft flat on Ma Tau Kok Road was sold for HK$51,000.
● A man from Hong Kong employed by the triads made a failed assassination attempt against the honorary mayor of New York’s Chinatown. The Manhattan Criminal Court was told that he stabbed anti-crime campaigner Lee Man-bun in the abdomen three times outside a Chinese restaurant in Lower Manhattan. Lee, who had been campaigning against gangs preying on shopkeepers in Chinatown, made a full recovery.
January 19, 1978
● Australian politicians and civil liberties groups reacted angrily to disclosures that police had compiled dossiers on thousands of people, including parliamentarians, judges and trade unionists. It was revealed that the Special Branch had files on 40,000 of the state’s 1.25 million people, or every one in 30 citizens.
● The Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev, 72, postponed his visit to West Germany, scheduled for the following month, due to health reasons. Before the official announcement was made, a newspaper reported that the leader was suffering from cancer in his hip bone.
January 20, 1978
● A robot postman nicknamed “Norman”, which failed to live up to the US Air Force’s job expectations, would be retired from travelling the corridors of the Pentagon. The Air Force said it had spent about US$29,000 on a three-month test of the rented “automated mailmobile”, which followed a track to deliver unclassified papers to various offices four times a day. The decision was made as the Air Force said the machine was not suited to the Pentagon environment.
● Three Britons were convicted of bribery over the sale of £4 million worth of radio equipment for British tanks sold to Iran. British defence sources said the alleged bribery was in fact commission payments to help secure the sale, a practice sometimes necessary in some Middle East countries.
Excessive executions, a Red Army blacklist and a house on The Peak for ‘only’ HK$4 million: headlines from four decades ago
January 21, 1978
● Money lenders who preyed on Hong Kong’s junior civil servants were facing a bleak future. Some of these lenders had been charging as much as 120 per cent interest a year on short-term loans. Tougher restrictions and tighter checks would make it more difficult for lenders to apply for registration. At that time, an applicant was only required to fill out a form and pay a HK$1,000 annual registration fee to the Companies Registry.
● A man demanding US$2 million for cancer treatments hijacked a Pakistani Airlines plane and held 36 passengers hostage. The plane later landed at Jinnah International Airport in Karachi with the masked hijacker releasing all hostages, who were unharmed.
Remember A Day looks at significant news and events reported by the Post during this week in history