From war camps to Occupy: how South China Morning Post covered Hong Kong history

November 06, 2018

The South China Morning Post has been a barometer of daily life in Hong Kong since it was founded 115 years ago. From its earliest days, the paper campaigned for more enlightened governance, and the newspaper’s reporters have experienced the same highs and lows as the rest of the city, including such indignities as being barred from society, detained in POW camps and being targets of rioting mobs

It is 1903 and two enterprising friends set up a new English-language newspaper. Their mission is to be the voice of China’s growing idealism and progress. The South China Morning Post is born on November 6

One is a Chinese patriot, Tse Tsan-tai, determined to help bring down the Manchu emperor’s tottering Qing dynasty

The other is Alfred Cunningham, a veteran newspaperman who starts editing the fledgling daily

From the beginning the newspaper sets out to be the fountainhead of dependable journalism in the south of China and refuses to be intimidated when criticising the establishment …

… as in 1904, when the paper attacks the Hong Kong authorities over the colony’s poor sanitary conditions

In 1906, a major typhoon strikes Hong Kong, taking the lives of 10,000 people – more than 2 per cent of the population. The storm tears up the city and sinks or grounds more than a thousand junks and 41 ocean-going ships

In one of the paper’s first major campaigns, the Post demands a full inquiry over the Royal Observatory’s failure to alert the public to the advancing typhoon

Henry Ching joins the South China Morning Post as a reporter. Eight years later, he becomes the editor – a position he holds for 33 years

Some influential figures in Hong Kong society show little enthusiasm for Ching because of his Eurasian ethnicity. On one occasion, the resourceful young journalist is barred from entering the Hong Kong Club so he sneaks in through the back door and pretends to be one of the staff to report on a business meeting being held there

The city experiences tremendous changes and more than its share of horrors …

… such as during the autumn of 1931, when a mob breaks into a house in Kowloon City, kicking and hacking a Japanese family to death. It is the worst incident in anti-Japanese rioting that paralyses the city for two weeks

The Post’s first female reporter, Helen Duncan, joins in 1932. One of the 18-year-old's first assignments is to attend the magistrate's court to report on a harrowing rape case

At dawn on December 8, 1941, Japanese dive-bombers hit Kai Tak, hours after the Pearl Harbour attack in Hawaii. The war has come to the ‘Fragrant Harbour’

The next day, Japanese troops cross into Hong Kong and less than a month later, the city surrenders on December 31. Post reporter Reggie Goldman dies in the fighting

All Western Post staff are sent to internment camps like the one at Stanley

The Japanese occupy the Post offices, forcing the newspaper's non-Western employees to launch a pro-Japanese newspaper, The Hong Kong News

After three-and-a-half years of hardship, Allied troops liberate the colony. Henry Ching breaks the news as the Post rushes back into circulation

As Hong Kong tries to return to normal, thousands of refugees flood across the border to flee the civil war raging on the mainland

Many of them settle in illegal shanties in Shek Kip Mei. On December 25, 1953, a raging fire destroys the settlement and some 53,000 people are left homeless. This tragedy spurs the governor into establishing a Housing Authority to provide 600,000 public homes

The Post’s top news-breaking journalist, Tommy Lewis, often accompanies the police on dangerous anti-triad raids. On one occasion in 1965, he helps detain and handcuff a drug dealer

In the 1966 and 1967 riots, Post reporters are often accused of being pro-British and become targets of mobs sympathetic to the Cultural Revolution

In January 1972, flames sweep through the 83,000-tonne ocean liner, Seawise University, formerly known as RMS Queen Elizabeth. Despite the heroic efforts of firefighters, the liner is gutted and sinks at her moorings on Kellett Bank

On September 9, 1976, Chairman Mao passes away and thousands of people queue at the Bank of China to sign a book of condolences

After the end of the Vietnam war, the Hanoi government forces the expulsion of ethnic Chinese residents and more than 250,000 people die during the exodus. In 1979, Hong Kong becomes the only port to allow them to land. Thousands are housed in refugee camps for the next 10 years

Hong Kong is horrified by one of the city’s most heinous crimes in 1982, when four women are killed by 28-year-old taxi driver Lam Kor-wan. He photographs their bodies, dissects them and stores some of his victims’ sexual organs in jars of formaldehyde under his bed

On December 19, 1984, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Zhao Ziyang, the Chinese premier, sign an agreement to return Hong Kong to China

In October 1987, the stock exchange closes for four days in an attempt to stop unprecedented losses during the Black Monday global equities market crash. A Post photographer snaps an enraged stock exchange president, Ronald Li Fook-shiu, who was angry with a reporter

Seven people die when a plane crashes at Kai Tak Airport in 1988. The Post uses cutting-edge infographics to report on the accident. Two years later, the governor announces a new airport development on Lantau Island

The Post dedicates many pages to the Tiananmen crackdown and prints special editions as events unfold in the 1989 bloodbath. Over the following days, hundreds of thousands of people demonstrate on the streets of Hong Kong

On New Year's Eve in 1992, thousands of people are celebrating in Lan Kwai Fong when a stampede causes more than 20 deaths and injures 100

Windsurfer Lee Lai-shan wins Hong Kong’s first Olympic gold medal in 1996, in Atlanta

Hong Kong returns to China in 1997. Director Wayne Wang’s hit movie, Chinese Box, features Jeremy Irons playing the lead character, a reporter during the handover.

Post journalist Greg Torode is one of the first to report on the death of Pol Pot from the Thai jungle in 1998

The Post’s annual charity programme, Operation Santa Claus, gathers momentum as it collects millions of dollars in donations from the public and Hong Kong institutions and companies

The year 2003 saw the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) in Hong Kong. In response to the deadly disease that would eventually kill 299 people and infect 1,755 others in the city, the Post launched a campaign to help protect medical workers handling the crisis in Hong Kong

On June 13, 2013, reporter Lana Lam has an exclusive interview with US whistle-blower Edward Snowden

On September 18, 2014, the student-led Occupy protests paralyse Hong Kong for three months. The so-called Umbrella Movement is covered in a live blog by the Post

The newspaper relocates to Hong Kong’s Times Square following Alibaba’s purchase of the Post. The new offices are equipped with the latest technologies as part of the Post’s commitment to keep pace with the fast-changing business of reporting the region’s news

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Here are some of the awards that this graphic has obtained

  • Bronze Medal

    Society For News Design
    Edition 40

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