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Corporal and Capital Punishment

Although there was no mass movement of defeated KMT troops into Hong Kong, the fall of Canton did prompt the mass movement of illegal arms into the colony. According to Grantham, the possessors—exsoldiers, deserters, guerrillas, and bandits—were not only experienced with but also willing to use these arms for theft and political ends. While recognizing the Colonial Office’s initiative to end such punishments, the rise of ‘grenade incidents’ prompted Grantham to request permission to reinforce existing legislation by encouraging corporal punishment (such as flogging by rattan cane or cat). Much more drastically, Grantham desired to introduce similar legislation to that of Malaya and Singapore in which the possession of arms was punishable by death.56

Grantham’s requests met firm resistance in London. At a meeting in the Colonial Office, Wilfred Chinn, a social welfare advisor, said that the British government found it difficult to defend the present circumstances in Hong Kong, where the number of whippings of youth was substantially higher than that of the rest of the British colonies combined. He added that some 80 per cent of these whippings in Hong Kong were punishments for insignificant crimes like street hawking. Furthermore, Chinn was adamant that experiences in palestine demonstrated that the death penalty was a completely ineffective punishment, arguing that not only was it easy for somebody to plant weapons on his or her opponents, but also that it did not deter ‘real terrorists’. B. O. B. Gidden, a principal in the Colonial Office, added that the death penalty had also been ineffective in Malaya.57

Nevertheless, Grantham managed to convince Jim Griffiths (the new secretary of state for the colonies after Creech Jones lost his seat in the 1950 general election) to permit the introduction of the death penalty, given that the latter’s approval was first sought on each case. Griffiths, however, was not as convinced by flogging which, he argued, was ‘not a deterrent’, as ‘by brutalising the person concerned makes an enemy of society for life’. Furthermore, flogging was not being utilized in Malaya and Singapore, ‘and what made the Hong Kong proposals worse was that Hong Kong was not under such pressure as Malaya’. In the end, Griffiths did not agree to the reintroduction of flogging but agreed ‘to the extension of whipping on the lines proposed’.58

In 1951 and 1952, the Hong Kong government claimed a significant fall in serious crime in the colony, which it attributed to the introduction of the death penalty.59 Physical violence, however, was never a policy the CCP implemented in Hong Kong during the immediate post-war years. And while the intensification of corporal punishment might have deterred criminals looking to impress the CCP, the influence of the CCP was cultural and as such required a cultural response. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, it was education which became the major cultural Cold War battleground for British policy-makers in Hong Kong and Southeast Asia.

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