The neon sign that tops the 16-story New China Products Department Store in the crowded "Suzy Wong" district of Hong Kong was behaving very erratically last week. Sometimes it shone brightly in advertisement of its wares and at just such times mobs of Communists surged through the streets in a destructive frenzy. At other times, the sign went dark, and the crowds knew that the police were coming. The sign was just one device used by the Communists to signal their followers when the coast was clear and when to watch for the cops during the worst week of rioting since the crown colony's troubles began in mid-May.
First Confrontation. Last week's riots began on a more ominous note than the first round of riots in May, which grew out of local labor disputes. The bell for Round 2 sounded at the border between Hong Kong and its overpowering neighbor, Communist China. Across the white demarcation line that splits the main street of the small fishing village of Shataukok into Chinese and British halves stormed 300 or more Communist demonstrators. Chanting Mao slogans and waving copies of the Little Red Book of his sayings, they began pelting the local police station with stones.
The police fired tear gas and wooden slugs to chase them away. Then a light machine gun suddenly stuttered from across the Red Chinese border. In the hail of bullets, five Hong Kong police died and twelve were wounded. The British quickly rushed a battalion of Gurkha troops to the scene. The Reds at first sniped at the Gurkha, then held their fire when the Gurkha refused to fire back. An uneasy calm descended on the area, but it was the first time since the Communists came to power in China 18 years ago that British and Chinese troops faced each other in an armed confrontation. The incident inflamed Hong Kong's many Peking-oriented residents, who had been waiting for an excuse for new violence. The colony's Communist-controlled transportation union hoped to paralyze Hong Kong's vital ferry and bus lines. Despite the strike call, many drivers took out buses. Dozens of Communist mobs, composed of anywhere from 40 to 1,000 young toughs and armed with wickedly sharpened cargo hooks, stilettos and stones, terrorized the colony's teeming Chinese districts. They smashed windows, set scores of fires, broke traffic lights and tossed bottles of acid at the hard-pressed police. But the defiant busmen got the worst treatment: the mobs attacked drivers and passengers, burned ten buses in a single day and reduced the island's transportation system to one gigantic traffic snarl.
Water Shortage. The colony's British rulers, who throughout the crisis have maintained a stiff upper lip, decided to crack down. Said Acting British Colonial Secretary D. R. Holmes: "The time has come to grasp and retain the initiative in this contest." Hong Kong's superbly disciplined police got permission to unlimber their shotguns. The Communist mobs retreated under volleys of pellets, and police collared 245 hard-core rioters. While British troops in full battle dress stood guard, Hong Kong police stormed into the previously inviolate Communist union headquarters and schools, carted off barrels of riot weaponssteel-tipped spears, acid-filled water pistols and baskets of empty bottlesand arrested Red leaders.