Remember A Day

China’s very own Watergate-style scandal and a top university post for a former spy: 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

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 April, 2018, 11:29am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 April, 2018, 10:07pm

A Chinese-style Watergate scandal, and sex, dominated the headlines four decades ago this week. A nephew of the late Chairman Mao Zedong was accused of undermining Chinese leaders, while in the African nation of Zambia, its government was trying to contain a sex scandal involving its female staff in diplomatic missions overseas. 

April 2, 1978

Zambia was to recall all unmarried women from its overseas missions because their sexual habits were reportedly damaging the country’s international reputation, according to the Zambia Daily Mail. The newspaper said that the women were “flirting and becoming pregnant”, as well as misbehaving with foreigners.

South China Morning Post investigation revealed that some factories in Kowloon had installed alarm bells and flashing lights to alert owners when Labour Department inspectors carried out spot checks. It was reported that when the alarm sounded, illegally-employed children would hide or escape through fire exits to avoid being caught.

April 3, 1978

China’s home-grown version of the Watergate scandal was exposed, with the leading figure being Chairman Mao Zedong’s nephew, Mao Yuanxin – nicknamed “the King”. The younger Mao was accused of being a leading agent of the Gang of Four, a counter-revolutionary political faction, and was alleged to have instigated a plot aimed at discrediting the Chinese leadership, including senior vice-premier Deng Xiaoping and the late Prime Minister Zhou Enlai.

A 15-year-old boy, armed with a rifle, hijacked a Piedmont Airlines jet at Byrd International Airport in Virginia, in the US, for about 90 minutes, and demanded to be taken to Newark, New Jersey. He later surrendered without harming any passengers or staff.

Hong Kong’s prison cells were roomier and brighter than many old housing estates, urban councillor Elsie Elliott observed after visiting 20 penal institutions across the city. Elliott would ultimately compile a report with findings and recommendations on prison conditions and submit it to the governor of Hong Kong.

April 4, 1978

A Hong Kong police officer, discharged from the force 17 years earlier for spying, was to head a university department in Guangzhou. Tsang Chao-ko, 55, better known as John Tsang, held the rank of assistant superintendent when Special Branch exposed his identity and expelled him to the mainland. He took up a post in the foreign languages department of the revived Jinan University in Guangzhou.

An unprecedented threat of violence hung over the 50th anniversary of Hollywood’s Academy Awards as a result of the nomination of Britain’s Vanessa Redgrave for the best supporting actress role in a pro-Palestinian film. In the film Julia, Redgrave played an underground worker who smuggled Jews out of Nazi Germany.

One of the world’s quickest wedding ceremonies took place inside a circus cage in Toronto, with six wild animals as the witnesses. The wedding of Julie Filipetto, 18, and Gordon Byers, 26, lasted only 60 seconds and was witnessed by three lions, three tigers, an animal tamer as well as a minister. The unusual wedding venue was the groom’s idea. 

Hongkongers warned not to discuss sex lives and China spreads its wings: headlines from four decades ago

April 5, 1978

China earned an estimated US$2 billion to US$3 billion a year from Hong Kong through direct exports, family remittances and return on capital investment, Jardine Matheson chairman David Newbigging said. He said he believed that as long as the city continued to contribute substantially to the Chinese economy, it was unlikely that Beijing would change the status of Hong Kong.

A pacemaker, believed to be the smallest in the world, was implanted in a nine-month-old girl from Britain to help regulate her heart rhythms. The Australian-designed device, fitted to Natalie Wild at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, weighed two ounces (56 grams).

April 6, 1978

Millions of workers across Europe staged a walkout for at least an hour and held rallies inside their plants or demonstrated in the streets to protest against uncontrollable unemployment – which stood at seven million at the time and rising. It was the first Europe-wide “Action Day” called by the European Trade Union Confederation to highlight chronic joblessness.

April 7, 1978

A 42-storey residential tower block on the Wan Chai reclamation site failed to attract as many buyers as the developers expected. The block, one of three towers of the Causeway Centre, was put on the market earlier that week, with only half of the 300 units being snapped up. The block contained two sizes of flats – 459 and 505 sq ft – with prices set at HK$234,900 and HK$306,500, respectively.

Thai International Airline was fined HK$1,300 in San Po Kong Court after pleading guilty to charges of cruelty to animals. The airline was caught carrying 219 turtles in improperly constructed wooden crates and transporting the reptiles with their feet stitched together.

How did Hong Kong’s Happy Valley get its name? Blame black humour, illicit drugs or murderous mosquitoes

April 8, 1978

The United States Air Force grounded its entire fleets of trouble-plagued F-111 fighter bombers and FB-111 bombers for the second time in less than four months. The warplanes would continue to be grounded pending an investigation into why an F-111 escape capsule parachute had failed to open, killing two crewmen after their plane was struck by lightning during preparations to land at RAF Lakenheath, England, a month earlier.

Remember A Day looks at significant news and events reported by the Post during this week in history