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Hong Kong's WatershedThe 1967 Riots$

Gary Ka-wai Cheung

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9789622090897

Published to Hong Kong Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.5790/hongkong/9789622090897.001.0001

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The arson attack on the office of British chargé d'affaires and the murder of Lam Bun

The arson attack on the office of British chargé d'affaires and the murder of Lam Bun

(p.109) 8 The arson attack on the office of British chargé d'affaires and the murder of Lam Bun
Hong Kong's Watershed

Gary Ka-wai Cheung

Hong Kong University Press

Abstract and Keywords

The colonial government considered that “seditious” articles published by leftist newspapers had undermined public morale and was eager to take action against them. Governor Trench had suggested taking action against Wen Wei Po, a major pro-Beijing newspaper in Hong Kong, as one of the measures to maintain public confidence. London agreed with the governor's plan although it called for caution and prior consultation from the governor before taking any action. The Commonwealth Office also sounded a cautious note about the effectiveness of the action, explaining that it might curb activities of leading communist papers, especially the two mainland-owned ones. Several media shows were closed down. The British chargé d'affaires was burned and Lam Bun, known for his sarcastic criticism and condemnation of the extremist actions of the leftists, was killed.

Keywords:   Lam Bun, arson, leftist newspapers, Governor Trench, Commonwealth Office, British chargé d'affaires, Wen Wei Po

Since the outbreak of the riots in May, the colonial government had been of the view that “seditious” articles published by leftist newspapers had undermined public morale and was eager to take action against them. As early as May, Governor David Trench had suggested taking action against Wen Wei Po, a major pro-Beijing newspaper in Hong Kong, as one of the measures to maintain public confidence. London agreed that if the communist press continued to carry out or step up the campaign of sedition and intimidation, the governor should invoke the emergency regulations to close down the printing presses, although it called for caution and prior consultation from the governor before taking any action.

Acting Governor Michael Gass expressed fully his displeasure with the leftwing newspapers in a telegram to the Commonwealth Office in July:

As a consequence of the failure of communist moves so far and of the firm police actions, the [left-wing] press is now one of the communists' few remaining weapons still intact. We know the major newspapers have for some time been daily expecting government action against them. Despite this, the press continues to pour forth a stream of seditious and libelous statements, incitement to disaffection and violence and false news. This is inevitably having some effect on public morale as well as being the main driving force behind the confrontation by sustaining the hard-core communists and encouraging the merely hooligan elements in lawlessness.1

According to the estimate by the police's special branch, the nine left-wing newspapers had a total daily circulation of 352,000 in July 1967. Although it was substantially lower than 454,900 in May 1967 when the disturbances broke out, the government still considered the left-wing newspapers a major threat to its rule.2 Gass believed that the time had come to clamp down on the left-wing newspapers. He recognized that there were risks in acting against the three leading left-wing newspapers, namely Wen Wei Po, Ta Kung Pao and New Evening Post, which were owned by the Chinese government. On July 26, he sought approval from the Commonwealth Office for taking action against selected independently (p.110) owned papers on the grounds that it should reduce the chances of Beijing's reactions and might curb the activities of the leading newspapers.

W. S. Carter, head of the Hong Kong Department of the Commonwealth Office, agreed on July 31 that the “constant stream of subversion and propaganda from the communist papers will, over a prolonged period, have some effects on the general public, particularly on those who are not so robust in their support for the Hong Kong government”.3 On August 1, the Commonwealth Office approved Gass's request for action against selected independent left-wing newspapers. “We entirely understand arguments in favour of action against communist press now, and we accept that if action is to be taken it would be wise to move first against selected independently owned papers,” the Commonwealth Office said in a reply to Gass.4

The Commonwealth Office, however, also sounded a cautious note about the effectiveness of the action. “We are however very doubtful whether such action would curb activities of leading communist papers, especially the two mainlandowned ones. It seems to us that any measures taken against the former [independently owned papers] would lead very quickly to need to consider similar measures against the latter. A dangerous situation would arise if the leading communist press were to continue to publish virulent and inflammatory material with apparent immunity. It would give the impression that we were afraid to tackle that section of the press, no doubt lead to even greater excess on their part, and boost communist morale.”

In a reply to the Commonwealth Office, Gass agreed that it might be necessary to proceed against the major left-wing newspapers in the future and would be prepared to do so in courts. “I believe there is a chance that action against the lesser papers might provide the bigger ones with an acceptable excuse for moderating their tone if the alternative were likely to be suppression,” he wrote in a telegram to the Commonwealth Office.5

Donald Hopson, British chargé d'affaires in Beijing who at times preferred a less confrontational approach, also supported action against left-wing newspapers in Hong Kong. “I see advantage in any action being comprehensive, effective and swift. Otherwise, there will be a long drawn-out propaganda campaign…. It is quite possible to predict what Chinese reactions would be. With their present internal preoccupations it might be limited to a very angry protest,” he wrote in a telegram to the Foreign Office.6

In a submission to the Commonwealth Office, undersecretary of state for the colonies in the Commonwealth Office Arthur Galsworthy admitted that the possibility of action against independent left-wing newspapers giving provocation to Beijing still remained. “But it is considered that, there is a risk which must be taken,” he said.7 On August 4, the Commonwealth Office granted its formal approval for Gass' proposal to take action against selected independent left-wing newspapers.

The moment came on August 9 when the police arrested five people who allegedly published and printed “seditious articles” in three independently owned left-wing newspapers. They included Wu Tai-chow, president of Hong Kong Evening (p.111) News and Afternoon News, Poon Wai-wai, prominent horse-racing commentator and proprietor of Tin Fung Yat Po, publisher Chan Yim-kuen, Nan Cheong Printing Company president Li Siu-hung, and manager Chak Nuen-fai. Nan Fung printed the three newspapers which had a total daily circulation of 43,900 in August 1967.

Mr Wu's newspaper articles called on residents to take part in strikes and urged ethnic Chinese police officers to “turn their guns” at the colonial government. The five were charged on August 10 in connection with counts such as sedition and “attempting to cause disaffection among members of the Hong Kong Police Force”. On August 17, the publication of Hong Kong Evening News, Afternoon News and Tin Fung Yat Pao were ordered to be suspended. Two days later, the police raided the buildings which housed the offices of the three newspapers. Thirty-four arrests were made and printed material deemed inflammatory was seized.

The arrests drew strong protests from the leftist camp and left-wing newspapers. In its editorial on August 10, Wen Wei Po criticized the arrests and the suspension of the three newspapers as “fascist atrocities” and “national oppression”. The paper urged the government to release the five persons immediately and rescind the suspension order. Struggle committees from various circles issued statements condemning the colonial government for intensifying their “suppressive activities against patriotic journalists” and the government was warned that they would “go to the gallows” if they did not stop the persecution and continued to play with fire. Struggle committees of various left-wing newspapers sent a telegram to press organizations in Beijing asking them to “expose” to the world the “crimes committed by the Fascist Hong Kong British authorities”.

The decision to suspend publication of the three newspapers, which was made before the trial began, sparked strong protests from pro-Beijing newspapers. Ta Kung Pao's editorial questioned why publication of the three newspapers was suspended before Wu and other three defendants were tried. “What sort of ‘laws’ and ‘rule of law’ is it? What sort of ‘press freedom’ is it? How can the colonial government close all patriotic newspapers and arrest all patriotic journalists?”8

The All-China Journalists Association, the People's Daily and Xinhua News Agency issued a joint statement, calling on the Hong Kong government to release Wu and other defendants immediately. Or else, the Hong Kong government had to bear all the consequences and would “eventually get the taste of the iron fist of the Chinese people”. About 100,000 militia soldiers took part in a parade organized by Guangzhou military region, urging the Hong Kong authorities to release Wu and other defendants.

On August 20, the Western European Department of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned Hopson and delivered him a note that demanded immediate release of 19 left-wing journalists, including Wu, Poon and Chak, lifting of the ban on the three newspapers within 48 hours and calling off the lawsuits pending against the three newspapers. Otherwise, the British government would be answerable for “all consequences”. Hopson, however, immediately rejected Beijing's (p.112) demands. In a commentary published on August 21, People's Daily warned that the British government must accept the demands raised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or it had to shoulder “all serious consequences”.

Beijing's demand for releasing Wu and other journalists within 48 hours was the second diplomatic note issued by the People's Republic of China since 1949 which amounted to an ultimatum. The first ultimatum issued by Beijing to another country was the one issued by Zhou Enlai in 1958, demanding the United States to dispatch an ambassador within a specified period to resume the Sino-US ambassadorial talks. It was very serious for a country to put forward an ultimatum because the next step could be declaration of war.

The issue of the ultimatum in August 1967 stemmed from the seizure of power at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs by the “rebel faction” a fortnight earlier. On August 7, Wang Li, a member of the Cultural Revolution Group under the Communist Party's central committee, summoned representatives of the rebel faction at the ministry and expressed his “resolute support” for them. Inspired by Wang's speech, the rebel faction stormed into the political department of the ministry on August 19 and took over the ministry. The rebels also closed down the offices of all vice-ministers and Vice-Minister Qiao Guanhua and Ji Pengfei were forced to write confessions at an underground chamber. The operation of the ministry was thrown into chaos.9

Yu Changgang, who claimed he had participated in Beijing's policymaking process during the anti-British struggle, said that the ultimatum delivered to the British government was approved by Zhou Enlai who had not fully deliberated the possible consequences of issuing such an ultimatum.10 Liang Shangyuan, then deputy director of the Hong Kong branch of Xinhua, said that an ultimatum used to be approved by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and higher-ranking leaders because it would mean waging war in the next step. “It was the chaotic period of the Cultural Revolution and I did not know whether the ultimatum was approved by Zhou. But I guess it did not get Zhou's approval,” he said.

Percy Cradock, who was counsellor of the office of the British chargé d'affaires at the time, said: “There was nothing we could do about this. It was a demand for total surrender, and compliance or even partial compliance was out of the question, given the due legal processes in Hong Kong. We could only prepare for the worst,” he wrote in his memoir.11

Unfazed by the warning issued by Beijing, the Hong Kong government started the trial of five arrested, who faced a total of 99 charges, on August 21. The Hong Kong government had prepared for some scenarios which were likely to happen at the end of the 48-hour period. “It may include demonstrations in courts and possibly also at the border. Deliberate stoppage of food supplies is another possibility. There could also be a stepping up of violent incidents in the colony,” Gass wrote in a telegram to the Commonwealth Office.

(p.113) The acting governor also envisaged the possibility of British diplomatic mission being targeted for retaliation. “Beyond this I fear that the Mission in Peking and [Anthony] Grey [the Reuters correspondent in Beijing] may well be the principal targets of Chinese spleen and I very much regret this.”12

But Gass could not have imagined that the backlash from Beijing was way beyond the scenarios he envisaged. On August 22, rebel faction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Red Guards from the Beijing Institute of Foreign Languages (currently the Beijing Foreign Studies Institute) and some members of the rebel faction of workers decided to stage protests outside the office of the British chargé d'affaires in Beijing that night. The 48-hour period expired at dusk of August 22 but the British government refused to accede to Beijing's demands. The Red Guards dashed into the office of the British chargé d'affaires and staged an arson attack on the office.

Fei Fih, Fei Yiming's daughter and a second-year student of the Beijing Institute of Foreign Languages at the time, was one of the students protesting outside the office. She said that Yang Wenchang, also a second-year student at the institute, joined the protest as a group leader. Yang was a former vice-minister of foreign affairs from 1998 to 2003 and commissioner of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong from 2003 to 2006. She said that a vehicle from the Public Security Bureau equipped with loudspeakers roamed around the office that night. “It broadcast Premier Zhou Enlai's prerecorded message that diplomatic affairs should be handled by the central government and that students should return to campus and workers should return to their work units,” she recalled.

“As my father was deputy director of the Struggle Committee, I thought I should join the protest outside the office to express support for the anti-British struggle in Hong Kong but I disagree with taking extremist action against the office. When some student activists called on other students in the morning to join the protest, they vowed to charge on the office. When I expressed my reservations, I came under heavy criticism from a young lecturer at the institute and he forced me to recite phrases from Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung such as ‘Revolution is not a dinner party’,” she said.

She and another female classmate spent the whole night sitting on the pavement outside the office while many of their schoolmates dashed into the compound. “The crowd did not meet with serious resistance from the soldiers in front of the British diplomatic compound. In fact, the country was in virtual anarchy at that time. Some students showed us the chair backs they cut down as souvenirs when they came out from the compound,” Fei said.

Time Magazine reported that “on the dot of the ultimatum's expiration, hundreds of Red Guards pushed past acquiescent Red Army and police guards. They crowded into the British diplomatic compound, shouting Mao-think slogans in English and French and throwing Molotov cocktails. Inside were 23 British diplomats, women and children. The mob set the chancellery afire, forcing the British to come out; nine of them, including Hopson, were beaten and kicked before being turned loose.”13

(p.114) In a telegram to British Foreign Secretary George Brown, Hopson reported the arson attacks on the office after the ultimatum expired:

As night fell the crowd outside increased rapidly in numbers (the official Chinese report put it as 10,000). There were speeches, recitations, songs, and a rather festive atmosphere prevailed…. At 10:30 p.m. I heard a roar from the crowd outside. I ran to the window and saw that the masses had risen to their feet and were surging like an angry sea against the small cordon of soldiers, who linked arms three deep before the gates.

Outside the crowd broke the glass of the windows, but the bars and plywood shutters held…the mob then started to burn straws at the windows. Smoke in the room was making breathing difficult, we could see the glare of many fires, and as it was now clear that the mob would soon be through the wall and there was a danger that we should be burned alive if we stayed. The mob greeted us with howls of exultation and immediately set about us with everything they had…. We were haled by our hair, half strangled with our ties, kicked and beaten on the head with bamboo poles.

Most of the staff who had been at the Office had had similar experiences to my own. Some were paraded up and down, forced to their knees and photographed in humiliating postures. All were beaten and kicked. Most of those who were wearing wrist-watches had them removed, and shirts, trousers and kickers were torn. Most of the staff were eventually rescued by army and plan-clothes police agents and put temporarily in police-boxes as I was…My house was sacked and its contents including my clothes destroyed.14

Cradock also made a recollection of what happened to him and his colleagues in his memoir:

I was dragged down to the steps and had a glimpse of Donald grappling with the crowd and half-strangled by his tie…I was swept along by the mob and beaten mainly about the shoulders and back…. Occasionally someone would hit me in the ribs. The man who had hold of me on the left kept saying ‘Bu da! Bu da!’ (‘Don’t hit him!). There were perhaps some restraints operating: the blows were painful but not crippling…

There was a circle formed in the crowd and I was carried to a soap-box, where I was put up in order to be knocked down again, by the simple expedient of two men holding my arms and another hitting me in the stomach. Someone came up and brandished his fist in my face, asking whether I thought the Chinese people were to be trifled with. Someone then demanded that I say ‘Long Live Chairman Mao!’ I remained silent and fortunately the demand was not pressed. A photographer appeared and for his benefit…my head was pulled up by the hair or forced down, while the usual two men held my arms. It was difficult to decide where I was, since as soon as I tried to lift my head to look about, it was knocked down, or pulled down, to cries of ‘Di tou! Di tou! (‘Lower your head!).

(p.115) I was then carried off the soap-box and the man on the left, who turned out be a soldier, began dragging me through the crowd. Someone disputed me with him but,…I was flung into a gate-house belonging to the Albanian Embassy, which stood directly opposite our own. Here I found four members of the staff already collected. An army man gave us water and spoke reassuringly about our security, saying that several PLA men had been hurt trying to protect us…. After a while we were led off by the PLA to the side-road between the Office and the Residence, where we found most of the rest of the staff…guarded by military. Donald Hopson, his head in a bloodstained bandage, was brought to join us. We were led off to a lorry…and then driven to the diplomatic flats…. The Residence had been sacked; the Office itself had been burned. There had been no fatalities, though there were cases of concussion and all had been badly bruised and beaten.”15

Despite their ordeal, Donald Hopson advised against a rupture of relation with Beijing as they believed a break of diplomatic ties would be against Britain's longterm interests. British Prime Minister Harold Wilson and Foreign Secretary George Brown hurried back to London from vacations in the wake of the arson attack on British diplomatic mission in Beijing. They ordered that all Chinese diplomats, journalists and trade representatives in London be restricted to a small area in the city's centre. The 2,500 Chinese nationals in Britain were refused exit from the country without specific permission. Brown heeded Hopson's views and stressed that Britain would not break off diplomatic relations with China.

The burning of the office of the British chargé d'affaires in Beijing was the most serious incident regarding Beijing's dealings with foreign countries since 1949. It was also an incident that illustrated how Beijing's diplomatic policies were affected by ultra-leftist thought. Since the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution in May 1967, Beijing had disputes with more than 30 out of 40-plus countries with diplomatic relations or ties on the level of chargé d'affaires. From the end of June to early July, Zhou Enlai had twice managed to persuade rebel groups not to mount attacks on the Burmese embassy in Beijing.

However, Zhou failed to stop the Red Guards and rebel groups to charge on the office of British chargé d'affaires partly because China's diplomatic works had turned into a state of anarchy since rebel groups seized the power of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on August 19. According to Zhou Enlai, the documentary produced by CCTV in 1998, Zhou broadcast his message that called on the Red Guards to behave rationally and remonstrate earnestly in an attempt to stop excessive actions of the rebel groups. The premier also dispatched the PLA to protect the office of the British chargé d'affaires.

At 3 a.m. on August 23, a few hours after the arson attack on the British diplomatic compound, Zhou summoned leaders of the rebel groups of the ministries and departments responsible for foreign affairs at the Great Hall of People. He sternly (p.116) criticized the rebel groups for staging the arson attack on the office of the British chargé d'affaires. He said that any person who had an elementary level of education should know that there was no point in encroaching upon the offices of foreign diplomatic missions and the country in which a diplomatic mission stationed had the duty to protect the personal safety of foreign diplomatic personnels. He stressed that the five principles of peaceful co-existence, which he advocated in the Asian-African Conference in Bandung, Indonesia, in 1955, should still be the guiding principles when China dealt with other countries.16

The five principles of peaceful co-existence are mutual respect for each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty (changed to mutual respect for each other's sovereignty and territorial integrity at the Asian-African Conference), mutual nonaggression, non-interference in each other's internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful co-existence.

Zhou also criticized the rebel groups' actions as “anarchism” but the rebel leaders retorted that there was no way to “back down in front of imperialism”. Irritated by the rebel groups' intransigence, Zhou stood up and said: “You said you can't back down. Are you intending to take back Hong Kong today? Even [if] a decision is approved by the party, we still have to consult Chairman Mao and even I can't make the decision. How come a combat group among you guys made the decision?”

Zhou personally apologized to the British government for the arson attack and instructed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to renovate the British diplomatic compound. As the incident was a serious incident which violated diplomatic convention, Beijing did not affirm it. But it was politically embarrassing for Beijing to denounce it publicly during the height of the Cultural Revolution. As a result, China's official media reported the incident in an ambivalent manner. The state media acknowledged that “something unusual” had happened to the office of the British chargé d'affaires. The Xinhua News Agency reported that “over 10,000 Red Guards and revolutionary masses surged to the office of the British chargé d'affaires in a mighty demonstration against the British imperialists' frantic fascist persecution of patriotic Chinese compatriots in Hong Kong”. It went on to say that “the enraged demonstrators took strong action against the British chargé d'affaires”.17

Fei Fih, who joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1973, said that the burning of the British diplomatic compound seriously undermined China's external image. “It was a shame in diplomatic history and it put China in a very difficult position in the world for a long time. For some years only a few countries bothered to deal with our country,” she said. She is currently a Hong Kong deputy to the National People's Congress.

The burning of the British diplomatic compound strengthened the pragmatists in Beijing led by Zhou Enlai as the Communist Party leadership took it as a sign that the radical faction had gone too far. Cradock described the arson attack as a turning (p.117) point in the Cultural Revolution; there was at least a change in its foreign policy manifestations. “The extremists had overplayed their hand and given an opportunity for brakes to be applied,” Cradock wrote in his memoir. In December 1970, Mao Zedong mentioned the rebel group's seizure of power at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the burning of the British diplomatic compound. “The country was in complete chaos in July and August 1967. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs was in a mess and the power was grabbed by counter-revolutionaries,” he said. When he criticized the Lin Biao faction and the ultra-leftists in June 1967, Mao said: “What kind of people are our ultra-leftists? They are those who burned the office of the British chargé d'affaires. They wanted to topple Premier Zhou today and called for toppling [Minister of Foreign Affairs] Chen Yi tomorrow,” Mao said. Mao pointed out that “wicked people” directed the masses to stage the arson attack on the British diplomatic compound.18

Zhou Enlai also talked about the incident during his meeting with Burma's head of state Ne Win in 1971. “When the movement [the Cultural Revolution] entered August, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was also affected by ultra-leftist thought and some bad elements slipped into the ministry. The masses surrounded the office of the British chargé d'affaires in Beijing and we had no idea [about the behaviour of the masses] beforehand. It was already too late when I knew about it and the burning had started. At that time we ordered the masses to leave the scene but those wicked people did not heed our call. What was interesting was the British chargé d'affaires heard our broadcast calling for the masses to leave the scene. He believed it was our government's position and sought protection from the PLA. He was not injured during the incident,” Zhou recalled.19

The renovation works of the British diplomatic compound was completed in the spring of 1971. Zhou instructed an official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to relay the following message to the British chargé d'affaires before diplomats from other countries: “The burning of the office of the British chargé d'affaires was done by a tiny group of wicked people. Both the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese government disagreed with the move. Now that we have renovated your office and you have moved into the new office, let's drink a toast to celebrate!”

But the Chinese official did not tell the message as instructed by Zhou because he was worried about the impact as there were many foreign ambassadors. Zhou was unhappy after he learned that the official did not follow his instruction. “It is not a big deal to tell that message in front of other ambassadors. Instead, you should have said it loudly! We practised the five principles of peaceful co-existence and we should treat other countries on an equal footing. It was wrong for the British side to persecute our compatriots in Hong Kong but we should not burn its office of chargé d'affaires. If you take action against the British, they may retaliate and that would only damage bilateral relations and even result in termination of diplomatic ties.” Zhou subsequently summoned the British chargé d'affaires in Beijing and told him the message.20

(p.118) The Hong Kong government learned from the Chinese government's apology to the British side for the arson attack on the diplomatic compound that Beijing would not take back Hong Kong casually. The colonial government believed that the militant remarks in the People's Daily were nothing more than empty threats and Beijing would not provide genuine support to the left-wing in Hong Kong. It reinforced the colonial government's determination to clamp down on the Hong Kong leftists and their struggles were bound to fail.

However, it was revealed recently that Zhou Enlai's last-minute intervention had stopped a possible military invasion of Hong Kong during the height of the confrontation. In an interview with mainland satellite Dragon TV in June 2007, Lu Ping, former director of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, said that some mainland officials considered taking back Hong Kong by force during the 1967 riots. “During the anti-British struggle, the British arrested a lot of people. Huang Yongsheng (The arson attack on the office of British chargé d'affaires and the murder of Lam Bun), the then commander of the Guangzhou military region, was prepared to order PLA troops to cross the border,” Lu said, “When Premier Zhou Enlai learned of it, he gave an instruction in the evening against the [PLA] proceeding.”

Britain's National Archives show that the arrests of Wu Tai-chow and Chak Nuen-fai were masterminded by Jack Cater, the then special assistant to the governor. “When I went to Beijing later on [in the 1980s], the then British ambassador Richard Evans introduced me to his colleagues that ‘this is the man who brought us the new embassy,” Cater said in an interview with the author in 1999.

He said that Percy Cradock, who served as counsellor at the office of chargé d'affaires in Beijing at the time of the attack and was promoted to chargé d'affaires in 1968, was not happy with him for a long time because his decision to arrest the pro-Beijing newspaper bosses triggered the attack in Beijing. “In retrospect, I had no idea that the reaction to our dealing with those leftist journalists would be to burn down the British embassy,” Cater said. But he added that the government could not afford not to take action to stop the publication of such seditious articles.

The burning of the British diplomatic compound in Beijing could not change the fate of Wu Tai-chow and other left-wing journalists. On September 4, Wu, Poon and Chak were found guilty and were each sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. They were the first people jailed in Hong Kong for breaching the Sedition Ordinance.

The court also ordered the Hong Kong Evening News, New Afternoon News and Tin Fung Daily to be suspended for six months. A spokesman for the Struggle Committee said that the colonial government could force the suspension of the three newspapers but hundreds of “anti-persecution journals have mushroomed”. “What the Hong Kong British authorities do is like a mantis trying to stop a cart and their eventual fate is to go onto the guillotine,” the spokesman said.

(p.119) Two days after the burning of the office of the British chargé d'affaires in Beijing, Commercial Radio host Lam Bun, known for his sarcastic criticism and condemnation of the extremist actions of the leftists, became the most prominent victim of the 1967 riots. Militant members of the left wing had been campaigning against Lam for several months and posters were put up in Macau denouncing him as a traitor and threatening him with “punishment”.

Commercial Radio was regarded as the number-one enemy by the extremists in the leftist camp because of its critical stance on the riots. On August 2, a letter to the editor published in Wen Wei Po criticized the broadcaster for “degenerating into bad elements of the nation”, with some programmes “glorifying the Hong Kong British authorities’ atrocities and slandering the patriotic compatriots”. “Commercial Radio has acted against the Chinese and Hong Kong people and has shamelessly served as the mouthpiece of the Hong Kong British authorities. It should think about its own future,” the letter said.

Shortly after 9 a.m. on August 24, Lam and his cousin Lam Kwong-hoi were in his Volkswagen, driving from their flat in Waterloo Road to Commercial Radio Building when three men, who pretended to be road repairers, stopped their car by waving red flags in front. As he pulled over, one of the men tossed a petrol bomb and threw it into their car. The vehicle burst into flames immediately. As Lam and his cousin staggered from it, the assailants poured petrol over them and set them on fire.

Both men were rushed to Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Lam, 37, died the following day, and his cousin passed away on August 30, six days after the attack. Lam's wife, Cheng Kit-mui, is now living in France.

Many people believed that the murder of Lam was related to his criticism of the left wing. Commercial Radio announced a reward of HK$100,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible. A reward of HK$50,000 was also offered by the police but the killer is still at large.

Commercial Radio cancelled all programmes on August 24 and broadcast dirge to pay tribute to Lam. George Ho Ho-chi, managing director of Commercial Radio, said in a statement that he condemned the “atrocities committed by the thugs”. “The thugs are obviously scared about Commercial Radio's exposure of their sabotage of peace in Hong Kong and employed this bloody measure to intimidate our staff. But the leftist thugs’ atrocities could not change the righteous stance of our radio station and staff. We will spare no efforts to help the government to quell the disturbances,” he said in the statement.21 In an editorial entitled “Communist brutality” published on August 28, the South China Morning Post said that the “communist minority” stood condemned before the entire community and all law-abiding people of the world for “cold-blooded murders” of Lam Bun and the two young children in North Point.

But left-wing newspapers described Lam as an “anti-China spy” and criticized some newspapers close to the “Chiang Kai-shek faction and the United States” for (p.120) calling for revenge on Lam. Left-wing newspaper New Evening Post published an indictment of Lam which was announced by a “combat group” formed by extremists. Starting from September 8, notices issued by the “underground sudden attack squad” were circulated in some districts. The squad claimed responsibility for killing Lam, saying that they had responded to the calls of patriotic compatriots in Hong Kong and Macau to “execute national discipline” on Lam. “Lam Bun, a bad element of the nation, had been hostile to our great socialist motherland and served as a running dog for the US and British imperialism. He spared no efforts in smearing patriotic compatriots who bravely resist persecution by the Hong Kong British authorities. Despite repeated warnings from our patriotic compatriots, Lam remained unrepentant and continued to follow the footsteps of enemies. By doing so, he alienated himself from the Chinese people. In order to uphold national dignity, our commander's headquarters carried out national discipline by executing Lam on August 24,” the notice reads.

The commander's headquarters vowed to “resolutely crack down on a handful of British imperialists and bad elements of the Chinese nation who served the British and US imperialism”. The All-Industries Workers' Struggle Committee said in a statement that “in order to retaliate for the killings of our patriotic compatriots, we must adopt all necessary measures of self-defence and counter-attack and punish elements of British imperialism and a handful of bad elements of the Chinese nation mercilessly”.22

The murder of Lam Bun further alienated the left wing from the general public. Ming Pao's editorial said that “the goals which the local communists failed to achieve by legitimate means, such as strikes, cannot be achieved by hanky-panky tactics like planting bombs, arson and assassination”. “The killing of Lam Bun has sparked hatred among innumerable apolitical residents against the local communists,” the editorial said.23


(1.) Michael Gass to the Commonwealth Office, July 26, 1967, Telegram No. 1112, FCO 40/113.

(2.) Special Branch, daily comparative circulation figures of left-wing newspapers – 1967, October 26, 1967, FCO 40/114.

(3.) W. S. Carter to Arthur Galsworthy, July 31, 1967, FCO 40/113.

(4.) Commonwealth Office to Michael Gass, August 1, 1967, Telegram No. 1582, FCO 40/113.

(5.) Michael Gass to the Commonwealth Office, August 2, 1967, Telegram No. 1151, FCO 40/113.

(6.) Donald Hopson to the Foreign Office, August 2, 1967, Telegram No. 994, FCO 40/113.

(7.) Arthur Galsworthy, “Measures against the Communist Press”, August 3, 1967, FCO 40/113.

(8.) Ta Kung Pao, August 19, 1967.

(9.) The arson attack on the office of British chargé d'affaires and the murder of Lam Bun204–243 ∘ [The Final Years of Zhou Enlai, pp. 204–43.]

(10.) The arson attack on the office of British chargé d'affaires and the murder of Lam Bun, 1996The arson attack on the office of British chargé d'affaires and the murder of Lam Bun6The arson attack on the office of British chargé d'affaires and the murder of Lam Bun [“The Inside Story of Zhou Enlai's Control over the Anti-British Struggle”, The Nineties.]

(11.) Percy Cradock, Experiences of China, p. 61.

(12.) Michael Gass to the Commonwealth Office, August 21, 1967, Telegram No. 1276, FCO 40/113.

(13.) “Ultimatum and Anarchy”, Time Magazine, September 1, 1967.

(14.) Donald Hopson to George Brown, September 8, 1967, FCO 1/14.

(15.) Percy Cradock, Experiences of China (London: John Murray, 1994), pp. 62–66.

(16.) The arson attack on the office of British chargé d'affaires and the murder of Lam Bun1998The arson attack on the office of British chargé d'affaires and the murder of Lam Bun2The arson attack on the office of British chargé d'affaires and the murder of Lam Bun181 ∘ [Historical Data Research Office of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, Zhou Enlai.]

(17.) People's Daily, August 23, 1967.

(18.) The arson attack on the office of British chargé d'affaires and the murder of Lam Bun (1966–1976) The arson attack on the office of British chargé d'affaires and the murder of Lam Bun38 ∘ [General Collection of History of the People's Republic of China, Volume 3 (1966–1976), p. 38.]

(19.) The Final Years of Zhou Enlai, pp. 204–43 ∘

(20.) The arson attack on the office of British chargé d'affaires and the murder of Lam Bun204–243 ∘

(21.) Ming Pao, August 25, 1967.

(22.) Ta Kung Pao, September 1, 1967.

(23.) Ming Pao, August 26, 1967.