Authorities in Hong Kong last week launched the first English volume of the “Hong Kong Chronicles,” as the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) moved to sponsor an official history of the former British colony using a traditional format for local records. The first English volume, titled “Overview and Chronology,” covers more than 7,000 years since the city’s roots in prehistoric fishing settlements in the Pearl River Delta. But according to veteran journalist Ching Cheong, the move is also a bid by the CCP to rewrite the city’s history amid an ongoing crackdown on political opposition and public dissent under the national security law:
RFA: The first volume of the English version was launched in a ceremony attended by chief executive John Lee and officials from the Chinese foreign ministry. Why is this book being given such a high profile?
Ching Cheong: This is actually an important process by which the CCP is rewriting history. Any history that is embarrassing to the CCP has been erased. It’s sad that Hong Kong has now become entrapped in this process.
RFA: Can you give an example of this from the book?
Ching Cheong: In its evaluation of the “one country, two systems” that has been in place since the  handover, it says that the model is grounded in the Chinese constitution and Hong Kong’s Basic Law, … and identifies a broad social consensus for the principle as the key to its implementation. The protest movements of recent years are seen as violating the Basic Law, pinning the blame for them on Hong Kong. But it doesn’t say why they arose in the first place, which was because the CCP has repeatedly violated the Basic Law since the 1997 handover, delaying universal suffrage again and again, and even changing the definition of universal suffrage in its Aug. 31, 2014 decree from the National People’s Congress standing committee. That was what led the people of Hong Kong to stand up and fight. The book totally ignores this fact, and blames the protests on the people of Hong Kong. This is highly immoral.
RFA: What does the book have to say about the CCP’s involvement in the riots of the 1950s and 1960s in Hong Kong?
Ching Cheong: It avoids discussing the most important points. For example, the first riot mentioned is the Double Tenth riot of 1956. The book says this was the first. But there was one earlier than that, the March 1st incident of 1952. Why did it skip over that riot? Because the Double Tenth riot was instigated by supporters of the Kuomintang (KMT), and the March 1 riot was incited by the CCP. By the time we get to the 1967 riots, their involvement is too obvious to ignore, so the book doesn’t avoid that, but its formulation of the 1967 riots instigated by the CCP is completely different from its approach to the riot instigated by the KMT in 1956.
RFA: How is its formulation different?
Ching Cheong: The book says of the riots instigated by the KMT that the trigger for the riots in Kowloon and Tsuen Wan had ‘obvious political overtones,’ and there was obvious and provocative involvement by pro-KMT trade unions and triad organizations. It says people who fled to Hong Kong were having trouble making a living, and there was huge public dissatisfaction with the way things were. It blames them, and pro-KMT figures who had suffered political and economic defeat, for this social unrest.
RFA: How does it describe the 1967 riots?
Ching Cheong: We all know that the riots in Hong Kong in 1967 were actually the result of an extension of the Cultural Revolution [1966-1976] in mainland China to Hong Kong. People who study the Cultural Revolution in China include the Hong Kong riots in 1967 as part of the history of the Cultural Revolution at the local level. All of the mistakes of the Cultural Revolution were seen in the 1967 Hong Kong riots. But the book describes them as ‘leftists fighting back against colonial oppression against a heavily armed military and police force’ and then being negatively labeled as a result of a propaganda campaign by the Hong Kong government. This is a completely different political approach than is used to appraise the Double Tenth riots. If the riots launched by the Kuomintang in 1956 had ‘obvious political overtones,’ did the riots instigated by the Communist Party in 1967 have no political overtones? The book’s condemnation of the KMT and its sympathy for the CCP are obvious … and indicates a serious bias in this official, local history.
RFA: In your view, how should people study and write the history of Hong Kong in order to reflect what actually happened?
Ching Cheong: I think this requires scholars to dare to break through their information blockade and dare to challenge [official] arguments. It is very important to do this in the spirit of truth-seeking and a refusal to yield to the arguments of the regime. Firstly, professional historians need to try their best to dig up and preserve historical materials that have been destroyed or are about to be destroyed. This is especially important.
RFA: What can ordinary people who are not professional historians do?
Ching Cheong: Regular history teachers could find a way to formulate a set of textbooks that can reflect the historical facts. Textbooks in Hong Kong need to be approved by the authorities … and so those books are unlikely to reflect a true and factual history. Every history teacher needs to have a set of these [alternate history books] for comparison with the CCP’s official narrative. Then they can point out the differences between these versions to the students. Thirdly, history lovers should do their best to preserve factual accounts from primary sources. Some people have been buying decrypted files at their own expense in the U.K., and trying to restore some historical truths from them. It takes a multi-pronged approach to avoid misleading students with the CCP’s narrative.
RFA: Why is it so important for scholars to preserve historical materials?
Ching Cheong: There was once a very famous China research center at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which was recognized by sinologists or experts specializing in China all over the world. It was a kind of Mecca for Chinese Studies, and many internationally renowned scholars came to use the more than 50 years’ of materials collected from various places in mainland China, many of which are now banned books. This resource center was shut down for no apparent reason when the national security law took effect [from July 1, 2020], when the CCP clearly wanted to tighten its ideological grip on Hong Kong.
RFA: What do you think will be the consequences of that?
Ching Cheong: These books have now been scattered, and some rich historical materials that had been accumulated over decades are now fragmented in different corners of the library. So its status as the Mecca of Chinese Studies has been destroyed. Historians need to think carefully about how to … fight against this kind of behavior that attempts to destroy the historical record.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.