In Post-Britain Hong Kong, History Gets a Beijing Spin GREAT WALL OF REVISION?

By Kevin Platt, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, July 7, 1997 | Go to article overview

In Post-Britain Hong Kong, History Gets a Beijing Spin GREAT WALL OF REVISION?


Kevin Platt, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


The Hong Kong government reacts to growing street protests by deploying riot police throughout the enclave and banning assemblies.

When workers and students press on with demands for political reform by occupying a department store, armed security forces surround the building and open fire.

Although the scene sounds like a nightmare description of a future clash between Hong Kong's democrats and China's communists, it actually occurred 30 years ago, when the British governor clamped down on protests against colonial rule. The event is one of scores that are likely to be included in Hong Kong's history books following the end of British rule here last week. Even before China's July 1 takeover of Hong Kong, Beijing seemed set to prove the maxim that history is written by the winners. "Beijing has already set up a committee to review Hong Kong's textbooks," says a Chinese scholar with high-level government contacts. "One of the first issues the history committee is focusing on is accounts of the Chinese Army's {1989} march on Tiananmen Square." That could hint at a new trend. Along with filling in the blanks on the worst excesses of British rule here, reporters, scholars, and filmmakers are coming under increased pressure to erase negative accounts of China's Communist leaders. "There has always been some degree of censorship in Hong Kong," says a local journalist who asked not to be identified. "In the past, there were taboos on reports about the British governors and tycoons who ran Hong Kong.... But these are being replaced by unspoken restrictions surrounding the Chinese leaders and Hong Kong businessmen who have taken over." While a wave of self-censorship toward Chinese politics is washing across some Hong Kong newspapers, others are taking advantage of the changing of the guard to write freely about Britain's mixed legacy. In the last months, the Express Daily has been releasing long-suppressed details of the violent crackdown on dissent that shook Hong Kong in 1967. The series, dedicated to clarifying the former colony's past, has outlined in photographs and print the last stand made by student and workers who marched in protest against British imperialism here a generation ago. Hong Kong police and heavily armed troops cornered the demonstrators in the Hua Feng store on Hong Kong Island, says local journalist Mai Weiming. When the activists refused to surrender, security forces on the ground and in helicopters hovering above the store fired on the building, killing at least 50 activists. "At that time, there were no limits on the power of the police, and ordinary people could be crushed like insects without any recourse to justice," says the journalist. …

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