The 1967 riots in Hong Kong : The domestic and diplomatic fronts of the governor

Research output: Chapters, Conference Papers, Creative and Literary Works (RGC: 12, 32, 41, 45)12_Chapter in an edited book (Author)peer-review

4 Scopus Citations
View graph of relations



Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMay Days in Hong Kong: Riot and Emergency in 1967
PublisherHong Kong University Press, HKU
ISBN (Print)9789622090828
Publication statusPublished - 2009


The crisis sparked by the anti-colonial riots in 1967 is arguably the most important historic episode of the colonial history of Hong Kong in the post-war era. Triggered by an industrial dispute in May 1967, the colony was soon swamped by violence, demonstrations, strikes, bomb explosions and even military confrontation at the border. Many commentators regard the event as the turning point of the colonial governance in Hong Kong, as post-riot Hong Kong witnessed fundamental changes in socioeconomic policies of the colonial administration. Nonetheless, the significances of this episode extend beyond the revelation of the self-reforming capacity of the colonial state; the riot also gives us a window to explore the nature of colonial governance. More specifically, it provides us an opening to look into the dynamics of interaction between the Crown's agent, the governor, and the sovereign state. Sir David Trench, the Hong Kong governor during the riot period, appeared to playa key role in defining the strategy towards local disturbance. His proposal of a containment policy towards the local communists served as the basis of the colony'S responses during this turbulent period. However, many of his critics, including senior officials in the British administration, regarded the provocative stances suicidal given the rampant Red Guards radicalism in 1967 and the vulnerability of the colony to possible military incursion by the PLA across the border. With the survival of Hong Kong hinging ultimately on the self-restraint of Peking, how could he justify his provocative line? More importantly, how could he win the endorsement of London? Based mainly on newly released archives at the National Archives in London, this chapter tries to uncover the dynamics behind the formulation of Hong Kong policy during the turbulent period. More specifically, this chapter focuses on the debates on the adoption of two of Trench's most provocative measures in combating communist initiatives: The closure of communist newspapers and schools. It argues that the governor's strategy was premised on the assumption of the passive role played by Peking (Beijing ~~*) in the local disturbances. Accordingly, the best chance for Hong Kong's survival was to prevent the local crisis from unfolding into a full-scale confrontation, a scenario that left Peking no option but to fully support the local initiative. And for Trench, central to the game plan was to stay offensive. The debates among the British diplomats in Peking, Foreign and Commonwealth Offices officials and the colonial administration, provide important clues to the policy-making process of Hong Kong during the riot. In the process, both the British mission and the Hong Kong government tried to assert their respective authority on the interpretation of events and the validity of the proposed strategy. This chapter argues that David Trench's 'victory' lies in his political shrewdness in exploiting London's uncertainty over the future of China and its lack of viable options in defending British interests. Throughout the whole debate, the governor demonstrated his acumen in deciphering the changing configuration of the Sino- British relationship and the consequent fluctuation in assessment among officials in London. His skilful presentation of his policy proposal and success in staging a facade of local support for his stance further reinforced his case. However, the policy debates must be contextualized in the larger strategic thinking of Britain at that time. The prevailing political and military parameters defined the notion of British interests and determined Whitehall's receptivity to different policy options. © 2009 by Hong Kong University Press, HKU. All rights reserved.

Citation Format(s)

The 1967 riots in Hong Kong : The domestic and diplomatic fronts of the governor. / Yep, Ray.

May Days in Hong Kong: Riot and Emergency in 1967. Hong Kong University Press, HKU, 2009. p. 21-36.

Research output: Chapters, Conference Papers, Creative and Literary Works (RGC: 12, 32, 41, 45)12_Chapter in an edited book (Author)peer-review