A falling space station, choppers to Macau and fear of oranges: 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
China’s space dreams were on their way to becoming reality when it was reported 40 years ago that the country was on the verge of sending its first man into space. The feat was eventually achieved in 2003. Back on Earth, legendary casino tycoon Stanley Ho Hung-sun was envisioning a more humble transport first – a helicopter shuttle between Hong Kong and Macau.
January 29, 1978
● Ho had applied for territorial overflight rights through mainland Chinese airspace as part of plans for the helicopter service between Hong Kong and the then Portuguese territory. Initial flights were to be supported by two SA330J choppers each with a passenger capacity of 14.
● Police were standing by at Pak Kau English School in Yuen Long as 800 pupils and their 10 teachers staged a demonstration against the school’s decision to start their Lunar New Year holiday on January 30 – a week earlier than scheduled. The reason was to enable workmen to repair the school’s drainage systems.
● The British Foreign Office was moving to disband the Information Research Department – its secret anti-communist propaganda arm. It was set up in 1947 on the orders of then prime minister Clement Attlee when the cold war began to intensify.
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January 30, 1978
● A multimillion-dollar expansion programme was under way for the Kowloon Motor Bus Company. To cope with the changes the firm had to speed up training for new drivers by operating its school around the clock. It also had to allocate HK$22.5 million for new buses to provide the extra services.
● The United States’ Skylab space station would fall to Earth if the Americans did not deploy a space shuttle to push it farther into space, a leading Danish astronomer warned. Henrik Stub said that if a shuttle operation succeeded, the 70-tonne Skylab would be pushed so far from the Earth that it would never return.
January 31, 1978
● Owners of luxury flats on The Peak were concerned that their properties had lost value. Their worries were prompted by a heated dispute between residents and the government over who was responsible for remedial work to a slope behind a residential complex on Guildford Road.
● Controversy erupted over what were described as four “rude”, “disgusting” and “insulting” performances by American singer Dionne Warwick at City Hall. Warwick amazed and angered fans with her scanty appearance at the four concerts. According to those watching, she also seemed blasé and indifferent to the negative reception she received. Public broadcaster RTHK’s Open Line programme received a barrage of calls from irate concertgoers who had paid between HK$25 and HK$65 for their tickets.
February 1, 1978
● Water restrictions on Hongkongers were to be lifted for four days during Lunar New Year. Principal government water engineer Tom Tomlinson said the government would not be seriously depleting its reserves by doing so but reminded residents to use water sparingly as there would be dry months ahead.
● A diner in a Chinese restaurant in southeast England ate the most expensive meal of his life – and left unaware he had done so. The man polished off a classic Chinese dish of egg and pork without realising it had been accompanied by a diamond worth £2,000 (about HK$16,000) worn by Lai Yuet-lan, who had accidentally dropped it on the dish.
February 2, 1978
● A wealthy right-wing Japanese businessman offered to look after Jiang Qing, the disgraced widow of Chairman Mao Zedong, in the event she sought asylum in Japan. Ryoichi Sasakawa urged the Chinese leadership to allow Jiang to seek refuge wherever she wished following Mao’s death 18 months earlier.
February 3, 1978
● China was planning to send a man into space, according to Kyodo news agency. The possibility emerged from a technical review titled Navigation Knowledge published in Beijing by the Chinese Society of Navigation. The article hinted that China, which had already recovered three satellites from orbit, was undertaking experiments concerning living conditions in space.
● The London Evening News reported that it had located disgraced film director Roman Polanski in his Paris home, following his flight from California to escape sentencing over sexual relations with a 13-year-old girl. The 44-year-old director’s legal troubles began in March the previous year after he took the teenage girl to the home of actor Jack Nicholson, who was out of town at the time. He was arrested the next day after the girl’s mother informed police.
● People in Hong Kong were reassured they had nothing to fear from oranges after reports that contaminated fruits had been found in Europe. A Palestinian group claimed it had poisoned oranges shipped to Europe from Israel.
February 4, 1978
● The Kwai Chung container port area was set to be allocated an extra 10.6 hectares of land following the completion of the MTR line from Lai Chi Kok to Tsuen Wan. Furthermore, 20,000 people would live in 4,000 flats to be built on top of the MTR’s new depot for the Tsuen Wan North development.
Luisa Tam is a senior editor at the Post