Hong Kong, Part II: “Catching a Falling Knife”
Head and Shoulders
On the sunny summer day in 1967 that I first arrived in Hong Kong, it might have been the Summer of Love in San Francisco, but it was the height of the Cultural Revolution in China. The narrow streets of the tiny, densely packed island colony were filled with roaring masses of young Hong Kong Chinese, brimming with revolutionary ardor imported from across the border, marching through the streets of Central—the financial district—waving plastic-bound copies of Chairman Mao’s infamous “Little Red Book.”
Bombs were going off in the elevators in office towers—the work of a Commie fifth column. And local rumor had it—I saw no reason to doubt it—that Mao’s Red Guards were massing along Hong Kong’s practically indefensible border in preparation for a lightning attack. All Chairman Mao had to do—or so it was whispered on every street corner—was make one command and cut off Hong Kong’s water supply, and Hong Kong as we knew it would be history.
Having survived a brutal Japanese occupation during World War II, and no shortage of speculative booms and busts in the years since, Hong Kong’s future as the last outpost of capitalist excess on the fast-fraying edge of the Communist world was once again looking bleak. The Hang Seng index was scraping the bottom of the barrel. The price of gold (on which many Hong Kong locals fervently speculated) was scouring the sky. But for every local wise guy willing to bet ...