Sunday, October 01, 2006

Legco Rises from the Ruins

Apologies once again for the lengthy hiatus. Travels have taken Stefan and I to Singapore, to Alberta, Canada, and (briefly) to San Francisco.

With this title I speak not of any recent date, but of the first ordinary meeting of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong after the end of the war against Japan. One of the most brave and honorable gentlemen to have lived through World War II under Japanese Occupation in Hong Kong was Sir Man-Kam Lo, who was immediately appointed back to the Legislative Council after the War, unlike some of the other pre-war members that had been adjudged to have collaborated too enthusiastically with the occupiers.

He made a stirring speech that day, May 16th, 1946, welcoming back Governor Sir Mark Young, who had been a prisoner of War held by the Japanese throughout the conflict. I shall simply relate this speech to you, and its elegance and simplicity, in its entireity:
Your Excellency, on the afternoon of Monday the 8th December, 1941, you presided over a meeting of the Executive and Legislative Councils. As one of the two members - the other being my Honourable friend Mr Leo d'Almada e Catro-present both at that meeting and at this, the first ordinary meeting of this Council to-day, I should like, if I may, on behalf of all the unofficial members, to tender a warm welcome to you, Sir, as President of this Council.

At that meeting you, Sir, formally announced to both Councils "that a state of war now exists between the British Empire and Japan." And so the war came to this tiny Colony. Eventually you, Sir, became a prisoner of war of an enemy whose treatment of prisoners of war and of the inhabitants of the territories he occupied, constitutes an everlasting dark blot in the annals of history. The suffering, which you, Sir, had to endure affords some indication to you of the agony and nightmare which the people of this Colony, internees and residents, had to undergo during the Japanese occupation. Thanks to the undefeatable spirit of Britain and the heroism of all the great Allies, the Japanese Empire, together with Germany and Italy, were finally and utterly crushed, and the menacing spectre of militarism removed from the earth. But, alas! not until August, 1945, and not without irreparable loss and suffering. We in the Colony mourn those who gave their all for the Cause, including so many sons of Hongkong.

Much has been done towards the rehabilitation of the Colony. But, Sir, Hongkong is still licking its wounds. The hostilities and the occupation will leave many permanent scars in the shape of injuries, mental as well as physical, and it must take time to repair all the material damage and ravages of the past four years.

Moreover, it is a truism that the problems of peace are no less difficult than those of war. And the Colony is faced with many of its own problems of peace- social, political and economic.

All the unofficial members are convinced that with your personal knowledge of the Colony's suffering, and under your wise guidance and direction, all such problems will be solved in the best interests of the Colony, so that those who gave up their lives in its defence will not have died in vain, and that those that remain may look forward to the future with confidence.

Your return, Sir, we hope and believe, marks a new epoch in the history of the Colony. In a sense, it signifies the resumption of the Civil Administration, including the sittings of this Council, interrupted in December, 1941. But it means more than this. It marks a point in time at which, pausing to survey the last century of progress, aided by the experience, but untrammelled by the mistakes, of the past, the Colony resolutely turns to post-war reconstruction and social betterment. It signifies the burth of a new Hongkong, which, in surviving the grim ordeal of the war years, has learned to appreciate the inestimable boon of law and order, the sense of responsibility in a greater measure of self-government foreshadowed by Your Excellency, and the need to strive and attain an ever higher standard of life and living through unity of purpose and effort.

Imbued with this spirit, thankfully rejoicing in deliverance from an intolerable yoke, resolved to advance the interests of the Colony as a whole and not those of any particular section or community, we cordially welcome Your Excellency's resumption of the Presidency of this Council and assure you, Sir, of our wholehearted co-operation and support
It was notable that Mr. M.K. Lo, notable for having refused to actively cooperate with the Japanese, was one of two holdovers from the pre-war Legco to speak - and that it was a Chinese that had become the senior 'unofficial' member. He spoke movingly of the shared horror of the Occupation, but also of a need to change things around in the new Colony, and had encouraged the Governor to move forward with his plan for greater autonomy and democracy for the Chinese residents of Hong Kong. Sadly, when Sir Mark was replaced, almost all of his political reform agenda was shelved by a British colonial service fearful both of the spectre of Chinese Communism and the political instability of the burgeoning refugee population in the city. Nevertheless, for a city that does not often look back to notable speeches made by its first citizens of yesteryear, this one address by Man Kam Lo is, I think, worthy of recall.


Anonymous said...

Just a note of thanks.
Grandson of MKL.

Anonymous said...

Certainly worthy of recall.
As soon as the Japanese occupied Hong Kong, MKL & others were rounded up and detained at the Hong Kong Hotel on Pedder Street. Then and subsequently he resisted the Japanese pressure to collaborate. During the occupation he did his best to mitigate the plight of residents by making representations to the Japanese. It must have been a frustrating, harrowing and thankless task. With the passing of the years we can look less unkindly on those who collaborated, but they did not make MKL's task any easier.
another grandson of MKL