A Concise History of Hong Kong by Carroll John M

A Concise History of Hong Kong by Carroll John M

Author:Carroll, John M. [Carroll, John M.]
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9780742574694
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc.
Published: 2013-06-25T04:00:00+00:00


The reactions in Britain and Hong Kong to the establishment of the PRC in October 1949 were a mixture of anxiety and relief. Most Chinese in Hong Kong were simply glad for the civil war to be over. Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang regime, which reestablished the Republic of China on the island of Taiwan, had lost all credibility (although pro-Chiang newspapers in Hong Kong now called for the colony to be restored to the Republic of China). The new PRC government did not seem to directly threaten British commercial interests in China, nor had the Chinese Communists ever cared about recovering Hong Kong. Chairman Mao Zedong, who once referred to Hong Kong as “that wasteland of an island,” reportedly told a British journalist in 1946 that neither he nor the CCP was interested in Hong Kong and that as long as the British did not mistreat Chinese in Hong Kong, he would not let the status of Hong Kong harm Sino-British relations. In November 1948, Qiao Mu, head of the local branch of the CCP’s New China News Agency, assured the Hong Kong government that a new Communist government would not bother Hong Kong and that it would even allow the colonial government to provide refuge to Nationalist leaders.

Still, the months leading up to the Communist victory had been tense for Sino-British relations and for both the government and the population of Hong Kong. In April 1949, Communist batteries in the lower reaches of the Yangzi River shelled a British warship, HMS Amethyst, killing the ship’s captain. The Amethyst escaped to Hong Kong, where the British community greeted its crew members as heroes and the British press portrayed the escape in gallant terms, but the incident humiliated both the Royal Navy and Britain. Although they doubted that the Communists would try to attack Hong Kong, the British government began to reinforce Hong Kong’s garrison, while the Hong Kong government cracked down on local Communist activities by detaining left-wing journalists and breaking up Communist-run groups. In August 1949, the Legislative Council passed special public security legislation that gave the governor wide powers of censorship and included measures reminiscent of those passed during the Second Opium War: requiring identification cards for all residents over twelve years of age and granting the police wide powers to search private residences and to arrest and deport “undesirables.” Although Communist troops stopped at the Hong Kong border on October 17, 1949, after arriving in Canton two days earlier, to many in Hong Kong it had seemed a very close call.

Given that the Communist government of China was dedicated to ending colonialism and imperialism worldwide, why did it tolerate British colonialism in its own backyard? Especially compared with the dramatic and often cataclysmic changes that characterized the first decades of the PRC, the new government’s policy toward Hong Kong remained consistently levelheaded and sophisticated. Hong Kong had in fact been an important base for the Communist movement throughout the Chinese civil war.


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