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In 1967, the people of Hong Kong staged a six month long, colony-wide social revolution that forever changed the face of British colonialism. What have
now become known as the "riots of 1967" was a series of incidents that government authorities - whether of the British colonial or Hong Kong SAR variety - would rather have you forget. For them, the riots are a reminder that when authorities repeatedly ignore the needs of the community, the masses will rise up and take to the streets to fight for social change.

Hong Kong in the 1960s can be best described as a "sweatshop’" colony where working and living conditions were nightmarish. Although the British colonial authorities knew that uncontrollable urban crowding, unchecked corruption and a gross lack of social provisions was a recipe that would instigate a widespread revolution, they still maintained the passive colonial social policy of ‘wait and see’. The 1967 uprisings would become instrumental in bringing about a new face to colonial rule in Hong Kong and started the development of urban Hong Kong as we know it today.


From a removed cluster of South China fishing villages to a busy British colonial trade-port, Hong Kong rose to fame internationally in the 1960s as the ‘sweatshop’ colony of Southern China. Then, Hong Kong was known as a place where cheap’ goods such as plastic toys, artificial flowers and wigs were produced. While the British colonial officials and the local comprador business class rejoiced in their newly acquired material wealth, the increased prosperity in the colony was unequally distributed. Unless you were part of the colonial or business elite, life was grim and harsh in the sweatshop colony.

The production of low-cost goods necessitated the mass exploitation of lowly paid workers. Most people toiled away for over sixteen hours a day in small non-ventilated, family-run sweatshops. Living conditions were horrific. The urban overcrowding worsened as the migration boom, brought about by mainland upheaval, continued.

The sweatshop colony had a continuous supply of ‘cheap’ labour as tens of thousands of refugee families fleeing from the famine of the Great Leap Forward came to Hong Kong everyday in search of work. More and more people were struggling to live within the same small and inadequate supply of housing space. Landlords cashed-in on the situation by increasingly dividing up their rental flats into smaller tenement cubicles while some even devised a way of renting out the meager room available into night and day shift bed-spaces.

While their adult parents were working most hours of the day at the local sweatshop factories, it was the youth of 1960s Hong Kong who were the first ones to voice their discontent about the social problems in the colony. For the majority, school was often an unaffordable luxury as only one in three completed primary school education. Instead many began working in odd jobs from a very young age to help offset the high cost of living in Hong Kong.

Not only did the youth grow up amongst widespread urban poverty, they were also often the victims of police brutality and the witnesses to the rampant abuses of power by corrupt colonial officials. Corruption had become a way of life in 1960s Hong Kong and police and other civil servants were widely known to be ‘on the take’. The common consensus of the time was that the police protected opium dealing and gambling, made money from prostitution and ‘squeezed’ hawkers for money. It was only when no money was paid that they made arrests.