New ‘Hong Kong Story’ museum exhibition to include controversial events, from 1967 riots to July 1 march and Occupy
- Long-awaited revamp at Museum of History will take into account survey findings and drop least favoured natural environment gallery content
- Expert says existing coverage on violent historical events ‘ridiculously low’
Controversial events such as one of Hong Kong’s largest protest marches in 2003 against national security laws are expected to feature in an exhibition on the city’s history at a government-run museum in 2022.
With renovations planned for “The Hong Kong Story”, a permanent exhibition at the Hong Kong Museum of History, Lingnan University historian Lau Chi-pang said he and fellow members of the expert advisory panel on the works agreed contentious periods such as the large riots in 1956 and 1967 should be given more coverage.
The comments come amid growing interest in Hong Kong’s history in recent years.
Au Nok-hin, deputy chairman of the Legislative Council’s panel on home affairs, said that while he agreed post-handover incidents should be documented in the new exhibition, it would not be easy to present deeply divisive events such as the July 1, 2003 march, or 2014’s Occupy movement for greater democracy.
“It would depend on the perspective and framework adopted by the curators and I’m concerned if it would be influenced by the government,” Au said.
Through its eight galleries displaying more than 4,000 exhibits and 750 graphic panels, the exhibition
traces Hong Kong’s development from prehistoric times to the return of the city to Chinese rule in 1997. Opened in 2001, the show also outlines Hong Kong’s natural environment and folk culture.
At present none of the more than 4,000 gallery exhibits relates to the 1967 communist riots, while only one graphic panel in the “Modern Metropolis and the return to China” section mentioned the violence in a watershed moment for post-war Hong Kong.
The riots that year centred on pro-communist forces butting heads with the Hong Kong colonial government, which began with labour disputes and escalated into a bloody war between the sides and their sympathisers.
A panel at the current gallery only contains a 67-word passage outlining the course of the events and a photo about the confrontation between riot police and protesters.
Another panel titled “post-war developments in Hong Kong” mentions that the 1950s and 1960s saw “three large-scale riots break out”, while a multimedia presentation on Hong Kong’s handover mentions the 1967 riots in a 10-second video.
Ray Yep Kin-man, a City University political scientist and an expert on the 1967 riots, said that, given the gravity of the confrontations, the coverage in the existing exhibition was “ridiculously low”.
“It’s not justified to present the event with just one graphic panel and a short video,” said Lau, who is a professor at Lingnan University’s department of history.
While the 1967 riots were a spillover from the Cultural Revolution, which began on the mainland a year earlier, their trigger in Hong Kong was a labour dispute in April at a factory in San Po Kong.
The incident escalated quickly after the leftist camp and mainland officials stationed in Hong Kong seized the opportunity to mobilise followers to protest against the colonial government.
The left wing was inspired by Beijing’s support for the “anti-British struggle”, and violence peaked when extremists started planting bombs on streets.
Tensions only subsided in December 1967 when Chinese premier Zhou Enlai expressed Beijing’s disapproval. By then, the riots had claimed 51 lives, 15 of which were caused by bomb attacks.
In the Double Tenth riots of 1956, which involved fights between nationalists – comprising supporters of the Kuomintang – and communists, 59 people were killed in the violence. The clashes stemmed from seething political tensions following China’s civil war in 1949, when the Kuomintang, which has roots harking back to 1911 with the establishment of modern China, lost to its rival, the Communist Party.
As for Hong Kong’s development after 1997, a spokesman for the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, which operates the museum, said that, according to a questionnaire conducted in January 2016, 77.8 per cent of 1,638 respondents were in favour of the new exhibition highlighting events in this period.
The survey found the gallery on Hong Kong’s history from the Opium War (1839-41) to the Japanese occupation during the second world war the most popular, while galleries on the natural environment and prehistoric Hong Kong were the least favoured.
According to the museum’s plan, the revamped exhibition will comprise two major sections – one on ancient Hong Kong till the 21st century, and another exploring the development of the city through different themes, which will be renewed regularly.
Content on the city’s natural environment, available in the current exhibition, will be dropped.
The spokesman said the current space would be closed in 2020 for renovations and expected to reopen in 2022.
Historian Lau Chi-pang said none of the members on the advisory panel objected to including post-handover events such as the July 1 march in 2003, or the outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome that year.
“The problem is how to tell the stories? We haven’t discussed which events will be included and how to present those events in the revamped exhibition,” he said.
Some 500,000 protesters, fearing the loss of their rights, took to the streets on July 1, 2003 to protest against proposed national security legislation. The march was the first major demonstration in the city since its handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997. Authorities eventually shelved the controversial plan.