Home Political science Britain’s Cold War in Cyprus and Hong Kong: A Conflict of Empires
The Special Bureau, Education Department
In January 1949, CCP influence over youth took on new proportions when it restructured the Communist Youth League (which was formed in 1922 to train recruits into full party members) into the New Democratic Youth League. According to the Hong Kong Police Special Branch, the new league was the Chinese equivalent of the Soviets’ Komsomol. Members were tasked with the political education of young workers, farmers, soldiers, employees, students, and intelligentsia. Youth between 14 and 25 years of age were invited to fill in application forms and, if accepted, swore an oath of allegiance ‘to struggle for a new Chinese Democratic Society, to serve the people, to struggle to the end of the liberation of China, and to be punished by the Regulations of the Corps, if I betray in mid-course’. Children between 7 and 14 years of age could join the Young Pioneers.74
The Hong Kong Police Special Branch concluded that ‘the C.C.P. political strategists are determined to ensure that the present and future generations shall not only support communism, but shall do so from infancy’. The Hong Kong branch of the New Democratic Youth League was led by Chau Kong Ming, an ex-Tat Tak teacher, and had 3,700 members by April 1949. The Special Branch argued that because the league was ‘attractive to young students’, it was ‘a most dangerous and effective agency for the infiltration of schools and labour unions’.75
In fact, Special Branch reported that 43 CCP-controlled or -dominated schools and 82 CCP-infiltrated schools already operated in the colony and warned that ‘there is no doubt that eventually, if allowed to continue, communism will spread to even the most conservative schools’.76 Thus, between March and July 1949, Hong Kong authorities deported three leaders of the New Democratic Youth League. According to Grantham, ‘Communist infiltration into the Schools of the Colony is most dangerous and one of the most effective means of dealing with the danger is to remove the leaders of the organisation’.77
In response to this increase in communist youth activity, the Hong Kong government took a rather innovative step by establishing in July 1949 the Special Bureau of the Education Department explicitly ‘to provide urgently needed counter action against communist propaganda in schools’.78 The aims of the bureau were to examine communist education and propaganda tactics; to execute ‘counter Communist activities in the shape of positive propaganda’; and, by cooperating with the Special Branch of the Hong Kong Police Department, to investigate ‘dangerous political activities, whether by individual teachers or students in schools or educational societies’.79
The bureau’s first report, written by its director, Douglas Crozier, made clear the difficulty under existing legislation of controlling undesirable schools. It noted that:
our chances of success in fighting Communism in the schools lie, in the long run, on the vigour and efficiency with which positive educational aims are pursued rather than on negative forms of repression and control. The latter are necessary; but while they may avert a danger they cannot secure a permanent degree of safety. The best answer to Communism is something more dynamic, more appealing and better than Communism itself.80
The Special Bureau, in collaboration with the Hong Kong Public Relations Department, thus began publishing monthly bulletins as well as issuing radio addresses in Chinese on education in the colony. These activities were the Hong Kong government’s first ‘move beyond an essentially negative role’ in education, let alone the cultural Cold War, in Hong Kong.81
Such positive policies had in fact been the prerogative of other British anti-communist organizations in Hong Kong, specifically the British Council. The British Council, which was founded in 1934 to spread proBritish cultural propaganda in response to fascist and communist political propaganda in Europe, was successfully established in Hong Kong in 1948. It soon thereafter launched a library, met regularly with educators, produced radio programmes, held lectures on British culture, and helped send Chinese students and civil servants to Britain for study and training.82 Like their counterparts in Cyprus, British policy-makers were trying to present ‘something better’ than communism to the population.
While policy-makers supported the positive activities of the British Council, the Hong Kong government’s most consistent answer to communist infiltration in education and other cultural battlefields was largely negative legislation. As with propaganda, labour, and immigration, Britain was ill-equipped to counter the CCP’s potent combination of constructive social policies, revolutionary ideology, and the idealism of youth, especially when the effectiveness of the government’s preferred option of overt repression was limited by the fear of retribution from the CCP. Instead, the Hong Kong government (like that of Cyprus) was forced to formulate its own counter-policy. In the case of youth politics, this would come later in 1949 with the first of many annual conferences of the directors of education from Britain’s Southeast Asian territories, at which Hong Kong led the search for an effective British counter-communist policy. However, this was an exception to the general rule of the period, and Grantham (similar to the Cyprus governors) sought greater and greater legal powers of repression.
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