The Fall of China

As it turned out, the fall of China was in itself a non-event for Hong Kong. While the communists were driving the KMT out of Canton, Mao proclaimed victory on 1 October 1949 and announced the formation of the PRC. It was Mao’s long-established policy to maintain British Hong Kong for its strategic window into the West and the economic benefits of its capitalist system as a source of foreign exchange and imported goods not produced in China, which his war-torn economy so desperately required.45

On 17 October, the People’s Liberation Army reached Hong Kong’s northern border, where (unbeknownst to British authorities) the CCP had ordered its forces to avoid incidents with the British. In fact, the first directive from the PRC to the CCP in Hong Kong came just days after 1 October and instructed them not to challenge British sovereignty but instead to build a united front campaign.46 Premier Zhou’s main objectives for the colony’s provincial party members were to ‘adjust to Hong Kong’s historical situation and reality’ and to ‘understand the mutually beneficial relationship between Hong Kong and China’. While resisting ‘the containment policy of Western imperialist countries’, the CCP genuinely sought to ‘solve the historical problem of Hong Kong in the very long run’.47 Over the next few months, British policy-makers would become increasingly confident in their calculation that the Chinese communists were not going to take Hong Kong by force.

Beginning in 1950, Hong Kong (like Cyprus) witnessed increased violent disturbances orchestrated not by communists but nationalists. Nevertheless, the Hong Kong government continued to identify the Chinese communists as more dangerous than the KMT.48 Creech Jones’s warnings of communist influence in February 1950—specifi- cally regarding the potentially vulnerable fields of immigration, arms trafficking, and education—were nothing new in Hong Kong.49 But these areas continued to cause great concern for British policy-makers there, pushing them into more extreme reactionary and repressive policies. As we will see in the following sections of this chapter, Grantham introduced (with London’s permission) further powers, especially regarding forced emigration, corporal punishment, and education, specifically in response to communist activities in these important areas of the imperial Cold War.

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