Socialism in Hong Kong

Socialism in Hong Kong had been often closely associated with the Communist Party of China until the 1980s and has been within one of the board spectrum of the pro-democracy camp which is often constituted by liberalism.

1920s labour movements in Hong Kong

Marxism was imported to China in the early 1900s and translated from German, Russian and Japanese. Following the October Revolution led by the Bolshevik in Russia in 1917, a number of Chinese intellectuals saw in communism the means to rescue China from its present plight. In July 1921, the Communist Party of China (CPC) was formally established in Shanghai.[1] The Communist Party was modelled on Vladimir Lenin's theory of a vanguard party and was under the guidance of the Soviet-led Comintern.[2]

1922 Seamen's strike

Su Zhaozheng (1885–1929), leader of the labour movement in Hong Kong who went on to become a leader of the Communist Party of China.

The 1922 Seamen's strike became the important episode of the labour movement in China and Hong Kong. On 13 January 1922, against the background of rocketing prices, seamen in Hong Kong launched a well-organised strike which lasted 56 days and involved 120,000 seamen at its peak.[3] With the organisational and financial support from the Sun Yat-sen's left-leaning Kuomintang government in Guangzhou, the Chinese Seamen's Union led the Hong Kong strikers to victory.

Although the Communists played no leadership role in the strike, some Communists in Hong Kong participated and others in the neighbouring Guangzhou made supporting speeches and published the strikers' manifesto. Su Zhaozheng and Lin Weimin, the two leaders of the seamen's strike would later join the Communist Party. Henk Sneevliet, representative of the Comintern in China who was greatly impressed by the success, concluded that the strike was "undoubtedly the most important event in the young history of the Chinese labour movement."[3] He also held talks with Sun Yat-sen from 23 to 25 December 1921 in Guilin about cooperation between the Kuomintang and the Communists. Sneevliet became more actively in organising the First United Front between the two parties after he saw the support given by the Kuomintang in the Hong Kong seamen's strike.

1925–26 Guangzhou–Hong Kong strike

The Guangzhou–Hong Kong strike between 1925 and 26 was another peak of the labour movement in Hong Kong. It was triggered by the killing of a worker Gu Zhenghong, who was a Communist Party member in a Japanese-owned mills in February 1925. The Communists launched an anti-imperialist demonstration in the Shanghai International Settlement on 30 May, which is now referred as May 30 Movement. A Sikh policeman under British command opened fire on a crowd of Chinese demonstrators, killing nine and injured many more. The incident fuelled even more anti-British sentiments across China. The Kuomintang funded and the Communists organised strike on 18 June, which began by 80 percent of the senior students from the Queen's College absented themselves. Many seamen, tramway men, printers and students led the walkout and left for Guangzhou. On 23 June, the British and French troops opened fired killing 52 people and injuring over 170 demonstrators in the foreign concession of Shamian Island provoked more workers in Hong Kong who were working for foreign firms to join the strike.[4]

Various unions representing Hong Kong and mainland workers convened a conference in Guangzhou and formed the Guangzhou–Hong Kong Strike Committee chaired by Su Zhaozheng under the direction of the CPC. The Strike Committee called for a boycott of alll British goods and a ban on ships using Hong Kong. The strike paralysed the Hong Kong economy with the food prices began to soar, tax revenue began to drop sharply and the banking system began to collapse.[4]

The strike began to fall apart after Sun Yat-sen died in March 1925 and Liao Zhongkai, the left-wing leader in Kuomintang was assassinated in August. After Chiang Kai-shek, commander-in-chief of the National Revolutionary Army, seized the power, he confiscated the arms of the Strike Committee. The strike received less support as Chiang began his Northern Expedition in mid 1926. On 10 October 1926, the boycott was formally lifted after a compromise settlement was reached, which signified the end of the 16-month strike.[4] Several leftist labour unions including the Chinese Seamen's Union were proscribed and their leaders arrested. New legislation to ban unions from being affiliated with organisation outside the colony and to outlaw strikes with political causes were also enacted.[4]

1930s to 40s: From the purge to the anti-Japanese resistance

Colonial suppression

The Communist purge in April 1927 by Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang government led to the fleeing of the Communists to Hong Kong and relocation of the headquarters of the CPC Guangzhou branch to Hong Kong until 1936 when the Second United Front between the Kuomintang and Communists was formed in 1936. The Communists in Hong Kong at that time were actively involved in military actions to overthrow the Kuomintang government in Guangdong.

The Communists experienced a period of White Terror during the late 1920s to 1930s in Hong Kong as Hong Kong Governor Cecil Clementi developed a close relationship with Kuomintang to suppress Communist activities. Despite the pressure from the colonial government, Ho Chi Minh managed to found the Indochinese Communist Party in Hong Kong in February 1930.[5]

Anti-Japanese guerilla warfare

During the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Communist Party set up the Eighth Route Army Hong Kong Office to engage in united front works and raising funds in disguise of the Yue Hwa Company. The Chinese Seamen's Union also organised a resistance movement by recruiting volunteers to cross over to Guangdong to make a guerrilla war behind Japanese lines led by Zeng Sheng. There were also the Huihou-Baoan People's Anti-Japanese Guerrilla Force and the Dongguan-Baoan-Huizhou People's Anti-Japanese Guerrilla Force which were formed in 1938.[5] Commanded by Cai Guoliang, the guerrillas began operations in 1941 before the Japanese invasion of Hong Kong. On 2 December 1943, the Communist Party of China Central Committee regrouped the five guerrilla fighting units in the Pearl River Delta into East River Column directly under the Communist command. By 1943, the East River guerrillas had total strength of about 5,000 full-time soldiers divided into six detachments.[5]

By the time of the Japanese surrender, the Communist Hong Kong-Kowloon Independent Brigade was the only military force in the territory. The guerrillas took control of Tai Po and Yuen Long and all other market towns in the New Territories as well as outlying islands, until the British forces arrived on 30 August 1945 and accept the formal surrender from the Japanese.[5] The agreement between the Hong Kong-Kowloon Independent Brigade and the British was reached as the Communists would be allowed to set up a liaison office, and its members would be guaranteed freedom of travel and publication as long as they did not carried out "unlawful" activities. The liaison office later became the New China News Agency, headed by Qiao Guanhua.[5] The Hong Kong-Kowloon Independent Brigade fought with the Kuomintang as the Chinese Civil War resumed right after the end of the Sino-Japanese War.

Chinese Civil War

A Hong Kong Central Branch Bureau headed by Fang Fang was set up in June 1947 to drive propaganda campaigns against Chiang Kai-shek and its United States ally as well as facilitate guerrilla warfare on the Mainland. A Hong Kong Work Committee was also set up to organise united front works in education, publication, literature and art sectors to bring people to the side of the communist cause. Furthermore, the Kuomintang Revolutionary Committee, a party broke away from Chiang Kai-shek and the China Democratic League, a small party consisting of intellectuals, were brought to the Communist side.[6]

Communism in Hong Kong after 1949

In 1950, Britain became the first western nation to officially recognise the Communist People's Republic of China. As the Cold War approached and the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950, the British colonial government tightened the local Communist activities, while the Communist activities remained mostly underground.

1952 March 1 Incident

The March 1 Incident of 1952 was the first major clash between the colonial authorities and the local Communists. A huge crowd organised by the local Communists gathered around Jordan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui to meet with a delegation from Guangzhou to meet with the victims of the fire disaster at the Shek Kip Mei squatter area. The crowd confronted the police after the news of delegates being stopped at Fanling and sent back to China. More than a hundred people were arrested with a textile worker was shot to death. The pro-Communist Ta Kung Pao was banned from publication for six months after it picked up the story and reprinted an editorial from the People's Daily denouncing the colonial government.[7] Mok Ying-kwai, the leader of the welcoming delegate, was deported to the mainland and left the Hong Kong Chinese Reform Association (HKCRA), an organisation first set up in 1949 to demand constitutional reform, without leadership. Percy Chen, son of Eugene Chen and another leader of the delegate took in charge of the association. The association became one of the three pillars of the pro-Communist faction, next to the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (HKFTU) and the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce (CGCC).[8][9]

1967 Leftist riots

the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (HKFTU), established in 1948, functioned as industrially based "friendly societies" or craft-based fraternities and provided benefits and other supplementary aids to the veteran members who was under the threats of unemployment and low pay during the 1950s and 1960s. It contested with the pro-Kuomintang Hong Kong and Kowloon Trades Union Council (TUC) in industries, trades, and workplaces under the "left-right" ideological divide in that period.[10]

Hong Kong 1967 Leftist riots, one of the major riots in Hong Kong history launched by Maoists.

The Cultural Revolution launched by Mao Zedong in 1966 in China inspired a tendency of radicalism within Maoists. In December 1966, a leftist-led demonstration in Macao successfully made the Portuguese Macao Governor to sign an apology covertly demanded by Beijing. Inspired by the event in Macao, the Hong Kong pro-Communists escalated labour disputes an artificial flower factory in May into an anti-government demonstration after many workers and labour representatives were arrested after violent clashes between the workers and riot police on 6 May. On 16 May, the leftists formed the Hong Kong and Kowloon Committee for Anti-Hong Kong British Persecution Struggle and appointed Yeung Kwong of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions as the chairman of the committee. The committee organised and coordinated a series of large demonstrations. Hundreds of supporters from various leftist organisations demonstrated outside Government House, chanting communist slogans and wielding placards with the Quotations From Chairman Mao Zedong in their left hands. At the same time, many workers took strike action, with Hong Kong's transport services being particularly badly disrupted. More violence erupted on 22 May, with another 167 people being arrested. The rioters began to adopt more sophisticated tactics, such as throwing stones at police or vehicles passing by, before retreating into leftist "strongholds" such as newspaper offices, banks or department stores once the police arrived.

Five policemen were killed when the Chinese militia exchanging fire with the Hong Kong Police at the China–Hong Kong border in Sha Tau Kok on 8 July, which spread the speculation of the Communist government's intention to take over the colony. The committee's call for a general strike was unsuccessful. The colonial government imposed emergency regulations. Leftists newspapers were banned from publishing; leftist schools were shut down; many leftist leaders were arrested and detained, and some of them were later deported to mainland. The leftists retaliated by planting bombs throughout the city which began to disrupt the daily life of ordinary people and mistakenly killed some passers-by and turned the public opinion against the rioters. The riots did not end until October. Many labour activists and HKFTU cadres were imprisoned and deported. Due to its violence and bomb attacking campaign, the HKFTU suffered serious setbacks in both public esteem and official tolerance.[11]

1960s self-government movement

Besides the dominant left-wing rivalry between the Kuomintang and Communists, there were also call for liberalisation and self-government during the 1950s and 1960s. Besides the self-proclaimed "anti-communist" and "anti-colonial" Democratic Self-Government Party of Hong Kong set up in 1963, which called for a full self-government in which the chief minister would be elected by all Hong Kong residents, while the British government would only preserve its power over diplomacy and military.[12] there were also Hong Kong Socialist Democratic Party founded by Sun Pao-kang, member of the China Democratic Socialist Party, and the Labour Party of Hong Kong founded by Tang Hon-tsai and K. Hopkin-Jenkins, being straightforwardly socialistic, by concerning itself with workers, and promoting welfare and common ownership.[13] Without any results, all the self-government parties ceased to exist by the mid-1970s.

1970s youth movements

The 1970s saw a wave of youth movements which emerged from events like the defend the Diaoyu Islands movement when the issue of the Diaoyu Islands sovereignty appeared in the early 1970s. Led by mostly the young generation of the baby boomers, about 30 demonstrations were organised between February 1971 and May 1972. A violent clash broke out on 7 July 1971 in a demonstration launched by the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) at the Victoria Park in which police commissioner H. N. Whitlely beat up the protesters with his baton. 21 were arrested and more were injured. The movement became one of the starting points of the youth movements in 1970s.

Social actionist faction

In the universities, the Maoist-dominated student unions faced challenged from the non-Maoist leftists, who were more critical of the Communist Party of China and criticised the Maoist blind-eyed nationalist sentiments. They focused more on the injustices in Hong Kong's colonial capitalist system and to help the deprived and underprivileged members of the community.[14] The "social actionist faction" was influenced by the New Left theories emerged in the western countries in the 1960s and 1970s and introduced by Tsang Shu-ki, editor of Socialist Review and Sensibility, two left-wing periodical during that time. The social actionist faction actively participated in the 1970s non-aligned social movements, such as the Chinese Language Movement, the anti-corruption movement, defend the Diaoyu Islands movement and so on, in which many of the student leaders became the backbones of the contemporary pro-democracy movement.

The Yaumatei resettlement movement was one of the movements was to pressure the government into resettling the boat people in the Yaumatei typhoon shelter in affordable public housing in 1971–72 and again in 1978–79. The social activists founded their own organisation with some Maryknolls and the staffs of the Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee (HKCIC), the Society for Community Organisation (SoCO) in 1971. Moreover, the social workers who felt constrained by the pro-government Hong Kong Social Workers' Association founded the Hong Kong Social Workers' General Union (HKSWGU) in 1980.[15]

Maoist faction

The Maoists, also called the "pro-China faction", remained their dominance in the universities and youth movements. In December 1971, the Hong Kong University Students' Union (HKUSU) organised its first China visit. In the next few years, the student activists undertook further China tours, ran China study groups, and organised China Weeks to carry out their mission of educating Hong Kong students about the achievements of socialist China.[14]

In April 1976, the death of Premier Zhou Enlai triggered a large-scale demonstration at the Tiananmen Square which were suppressed by the Gang of Four. The Maoist-dominated Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS) passed the resolution of "Counterattack the Right-Deviationist Reversal-of-Verdicts Trend" on 3 May 1976, condemning the Tiananmen protesters as "anti-socialist" and "subversive".[16] It faced the opposition from the Trotskyists who issued a statement in left-wing periodical October Review, condemning the Chinese Communist Party and calling for the uprising of the Chinese workers and peasants.[16]

By the end of 1976, the death of Mao Zedong which followed by the fall of the Gang of Four crushed the socialist idealist belief of the Maoists in Hong Kong. The official verdict of the Tiananmen Incident was also reversed after Deng Xiaoping came to power in 1978, as it would later be officially hailed as a display of patriotism, further diminished the prestige of the Maoists, eventually wiped out the Maoists from the movements.[17]

Trotskyists and anarchists

The Revolutionary Communist Party founded in September 1948 by Chinese Trotskyists and led by Peng Shuzhi on the basis of the Communist League of China fled to Hong Kong after the Communist takeover of China in 1949. The party was legally active as October Review since 1974.[18]

New Trotskyist and anarchist trends emerged from a student movement broke out at the Chu Hai College in 1969. They were disillusioned with the Communist Party with the events such as Cultural Revolution and Lin Bao Incident which heavily discredited the party.[19]

Until in 1972, few of the Hong Kong youths made an expensive trip to Paris to meet with the exiled Chinese Trotskyists including Peng Shuzhi. Few of the returnees such as John Shum and Ng Chung-yin left the 70's Biweekly which was at the time dominated by anarchists, and established a Trotskyist youth group called Revolutionary International League. It later took the name Socialist League and changed its name into Revolutionary Marxist League in 1975.[19] Famous members of the group include Leung Kwok-hung who formed in the April Fifth Action after the league was disbanded in 1990 and later became member of the Legislative Council.

1980s to 90s: Sweep of neoliberalism

After Deng Xiaoping came to power in 1978, China underwent a radical economic liberalisation, which the Communist Party later labelled as "socialism with Chinese characteristics". At the same time, Beijing also reached the agreement with the British government which determined the Chinese retrocession of Hong Kong in 1997. Neoliberal trend also dominated in Hong Kong as the city was undergoing of transformation from an industrial to a finance and real estates-dominated economy.[17]


Some leftists, such as Tsang Shu-ki, saw a chance for Hong Kong to transform into a reformed capitalist economy and a democratic society which would integrate into a socialist democratic China. In 1983, Tsang co-founded the Meeting Point which became one of the first groups to welcome the Chinese retrocession of Hong Kong. Trotskyist Leung Kwok-hung criticised Tsang's reformist ideas, calling for an uprising against the capitalist-colonial regime in Hong Kong and bureaucratic regime in China under the social democratic banner.[20]

Members of the April Fifth Action in Victoria Park in 2009 to commemorate the victims in the 1989 Tiananmen massacre.

The Meeting Point and the pro-grassroots Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood (HKADPL) began to participate in the local elections with Hong Kong Affairs Society (HKAS), in which the three groups became the major forces of the pro-democracy camp in the late 1980s. The pro-democrats formed the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China (HKASPDMC), led by president of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union (HKPTU) and former pro-Communist Szeto Wah, in support of the student and labour movement in May 1989. They condemned the Communist bloody crackdown in the morning on 4 June which led to the rupture between Beijing and the majority of the pro-democrats. The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) which emerged from the Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee (HKCIC) became the major pro-democracy labour union in 1990. At the same year, the United Democrats of Hong Kong (UDHK), which was later transformed into the Democratic Party, was established as a grand alliance of the pro-democracy politicians, professionals, activists and trade unionists. The pro-democracy camp won a landslide victories in the 1991 and 1995 Legislative Council election.

Pro-Beijing leftists

To counter the growing liberal influences, the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (HKFTU), the most massive grassroots organ in the traditional leftist bloc, assumed a vanguard role to resist the pre-1997 democratisation. It joined hand with the conservative business elites to oppose to the possible direct Legislative Council election of 1988 with the slogan of "Hong Kong workers want only meal tickets but not electoral ballots."[11] However, during the Hong Kong Basic Law drafting process from 1985 to 1990, the HKFTU had to repudiate its demands on rights of union recognition and collective bargaining in the Consultative and Drafting Committees dominated by tycoons. The HKFTU's devotion to Beijing and its collaboration with the conservative business interests were challenged by some leftist unionists.[11]

In 1992, the pro-Beijing party Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB) was co-founded by the HKFTU members. The HKFTU also began to mobilise supporters to vote for the DAB candidates in the Legislative Council elections. In 1997, the HKFTU representatives joined the Beijing-controlled Provisional Legislative Council to rollback several pre-handover labour rights laws passed in spring 1997 by the colonial legislature controlled by the pro-democracy camp, which included the collective bargaining. The Provisional Legislative Council also enacted new electoral rules to disenfranchise some 800,000 blue, gray and white-collar workers in the nine functional constituencies created from Chris Patten's electoral reform.[11] The number of eligible voters in the Labour functional constituency was reduced from 2,001 qualified union officials in 1995 to only 361 unions on a one-vote-per-union basis for the first SAR elections in 1998.[11]

Since 1997

Young Turks

In the first years of the SAR period, the Democratic Party, the largest pro-democratic party, suffered from an intra-party struggles as the left-wing Young Turks faction led by Andrew To challenged the conservative leadership. In the party leadership election, the Young Turks nominated Lau Chin-shek, the general secretary of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU) to run for vice-chairman against Anthony Cheung. In a general meeting in September 1999, the Young Turks also proposed to put the minimum wage legislation on the 2000 LegCo election platform of the party which led to the backlash from the party leadership. Failing in influencing the party, the Young Turks formed another political group called the Social Democratic Forum and later defected to more radical the Frontier.[21]

League of Social Democrats

Leung Kwok-hung (1956–), arguably one of the most famous socialists in today's Hong Kong politics.

In October 2006, Andrew To, legislator Leung Kwok-hung of the April Fifth Action, legislator and former Democratic Party member Albert Chan and radical radio host Wong Yuk-man founded the League of Social Democrats (LSD), the first self-proclaimed left-wing social democratic party in Hong Kong. The League won three seats in the 2008 Legislative Council election, receiving 10 percent of the total votes.

In 2010, the League launched the "Five Constituencies Referendum" movement, triggering a territory-wide by-election by having five legislators resigning from the Legislative Council in each constituency to pressure the government to implement universal suffrage. The claim of by-election as referendum expectedly received serve attacks from the Beijing government and the pro-Beijing camp in Hong Kong as unconstitutional.[22] The Democratic Party refused to join the movement and sought for a less confrontational way to negotiate with Beijing. The movement was considered as failure with only 17.7 percent of the registered voters voted despite all three League legislators successfully returned to the legislature.[22]

In 2011, the party heavily devastated from the intra-party struggles as former chairman Wong Yuk-man disagreed with the policies of the incumbent chairman Andrew To including the ways of dealing with the Democratic Party which reached an agreement with the Chinese Communist authorities over the electoral reform proposals. On 24 January 2011, two of the three legislators of the party, Wong Yuk-man and Albert Chan quit the party with many party's leading figures, citing disagreement with leader Andrew To and his faction. About two hundreds of their supporters joined them, leaving the LSD in disarray.[23][24] Wong and Chan formed the People Power with other defected members and radical groups which left the League only one seat in the legislature, occupied by Leung Kwok-hung.

In the 2011 District Council election, the party lost all its seats in the District Councils to pro-Beijing candidates. In the following elections in 2015, the party and another small Trotskyist group Socialist Action failed to win any seat.

Left 21

A small socialist group Left 21 emerged after the failure of the massive anti-Guangzhou–Shenzhen–Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) movements, as the leftist faction disagreed with the lack of the class discourse in the movement leadership. It started a year-long Occupy Central, part of the international Occupy Wall Street movements, at a plaza beneath the HSBC headquarters from 2011 to 2012. It also joined the 40-day dock strike at the Kwai Tsing Container Terminal called by the Union of Hong Kong Dockers (UHKD), an affiliate of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU). It became the longest running industrial action in Hong Kong in years.

Labour Party

In 2011, four incumbent legislators, Lee Cheuk-yan of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), Cyd Ho of the Civic Act-up and Cheung Kwok-che of the Hong Kong Social Workers General Union (HKSWGU) co-founded the Labour Party for labour rights, new immigrants, ethnic minorities and environmental issues in the coming 2012 Legislative Council election. The Labour won four seats in the election, receiving four percent of the popular votes.

See also

Other ideologies in Hong Kong


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