Note from the Editor
In April 2016, we published the article ‘Eastern Ranger and the Red Guards’ which covered the frightening experience of the officers and crew of the Eastern Moon at the hands of the Red Guard movement and the Chinese authorities in 1967.
At the end of his article, the author, Frank Pickering said “With the passing of time, the real story of the Eastern Moon incident will probably never be told”. Astonishingly, since then, John Joyce who was third offi cer on the Eastern Moon at the time and who, himself, was subjected to awful treatment has been in touch to give his first-hand account of events. I am pleased to publish his story, as it gives us a fuller understanding of what was a nightmare experience and of the truly dreadful poisonous atmosphere in China at that time.
An old friend and colleague, being aware of my involvement in the incident, passed me a copy of the article “Eastern Ranger and the Red Guards” that appeared in the April 2016 issue of Sea Breezes. In a footnote to his article, Frank writes “with the passing of time the real story of the Eastern Moon incident will probably never be told”. It is true that without an input from all those involved, including the Chinese authorities, a true and complete background to events will remain concealed. I believe however, that my own close involvement in the incident does qualify me to present my own account of events and the possible implications. Having previously served on the Bay of Bengal service, I was appointed to the Eastern Moon as third offi cer in August 1966. The ship was employed on the Australia service and, at the time of the incident, I was on my third round trip and it was my third visit to Shanghai.
At the time of the incident in 1967, there was ongoing serious conflict in Vietnam between forces in the south supported by the United States, and allied forces including Australian ground troops, and North Vietnamese fighters. In Hong Kong there was serious rioting by those who opposed the Hong Kong authorities and British occupation of “part of China”.
In China the “cultural revolution” and consequential dramatic rise in the number of young people in the Red Guard movement had become a serious threat to law and order. A new book on the period by Dutch historian Frank Dikotter reveals the “grotesque violence inflicted on ‘class enemies’ and intellectuals as teenage Red Guards fanned out with orders to “sweep away monsters and demons”. Victims were beaten, flogged and stoned by ‘Mao’s little generals’. Homes and places of worship were ransacked and burned. One teacher killed himself after being set upon by students who forced him to drink ink. Another was doused in petrol and set alight. Others were electrocuted or buried alive.
Percy Cradock, a senior British diplomat in Beijing, recalled in his memoirs; “The country was in the grip of a nightmare”. Shortly before the Eastern Moon’s arrival in China, on this voyage the British charges d’affaires in Shanghai had been expelled from the city. An estimated two million people lost their lives during the period the Red Guards were allowed, possibly even encouraged, to run-riot.
It is appropriate to at this point remind ourselves that during this period of internal turmoil, normal communications between China and other countries was almost nonexistent. Indeed, it was Taiwan that was accepted as representing China and not the People’s Republic that had still to be recognised by the UN and the United States, although the latter were keenly interested in all developments in China. An important point to bear in mind is the fact that in 1967 the various means of communications available today were in their infancy. The vast majority of Chinese citizens relied entirely on news and information provided by their Government. The resultant downside to this was to ensure that the Red Guard movement and the public generally, were rabidly hostile toward the UK, the USA and Russia, in particular. This important point goes some way towards understanding the difficulties faced by the Chinese authorities in communicating with its people. Clearly, there was almost certainly a hierarchy in China who controlled the information/ propaganda distributed to the public. Similarly, although the Red Guards were directing most of their energies on internal matters, external affairs, notably the Hong Kong situation, was seen as evidence of British imperialism that demanded the strongest objection on their part.
THE EASTERN MOON
The Eastern Moon had been employed for some years on the ‘Australian Service’, sailing from Hong Kong with general cargo for Australia (east coast ports) and returning via Japan and China to Hong Kong. On the voyage in question, following departure from Japan, the ship was scheduled to call at Hsinkang* (the port for Tientsin*) and Shanghai. Prior to arrival in China, the crew followed their usual drill of packing away all their ‘western’ style clothing and belongings, and dressing in their Chinese tunics and rubber shoes. Anyone in China wearing a jacket and tie or lace-up shoes would be severely dealt with. It was obvious that the crew were seriously worried about doing wrong in the Red Guard’s eyes. It is also true that the officers were generally experienced enough to know how to behave in the host country.
On arrival at Hsinkang, the ship was treated, as on the previous voyage, to a welcoming party of Red Guards singing songs and entertaining an audience of officers and crew. The first cargo to be discharged, were the 350 or so live sheep which had travelled on deck in wooden pens from Brisbane, under the care of two shepherds. After discharging, the remaining Hsinkang cargo the ship was made ready to sail for Shanghai. Posters covering the wheelhouse windows put up by the Red Guards were carefully removed for obvious reasons, but not before an official had questioned how one poster had been damaged. Interestingly, and unusually, no back-loading had occurred at Hsinkang.
The passage to Shanghai, contrary to the alleged running down of a Chinese fishing vessel, that simply did not occur, was uneventful and the ship berthed on the Bund as usual. There then followed what seemed to be a desperate rush to discharge the cargo to the point that the stevedores needed to be constantly reminded that they were overloading the cargo gear. There were regular visits to the ship by Red Guards often for the purpose of informing the crew that they were required to attend a meeting or rally during working hours. In the end the Chief Engineer felt obliged to protest to the authorities that the absence of the engine room crew was preventing the completion of essential maintenance work. At about the same time an official came aboard and raised again the question as to how one of the posters in the wheelhouse had come to be damaged.
Cargo discharge was completed, but peculiarly no information had been received about the return cargo. On previous voyages the ship would have been full above and below deck on departure Shanghai for Hong Kong. On deck would be vegetables and livestock, and below deck cargo for transhipment. The remaining below deck cargo for Australia included a large quantity for Woolworths (Australia). Contrary to the normal US rules banning all goods made in China, Woolworths (Australia) was autonomous and the rules did not apply.
The following day began with a massing of Red Guards on the quay complete with loudspeakers, music and armed PLA (Peoples Liberation Army) personnel. The Red Guards were addressed by a spokesman and, watched by the ship’s crew, there were by now some 3,000 or so and they became more and more incensed and hysterical. Selected Red Guards then, armed with paint pots and brushes began to paint slogans on the side of the ship in Chinese and in English. This continued for some time until it was clearly decided to board the ship and take a number of officers ashore. This began with the Chief and Second Engineers, and the Chief and Second Officers. These four were forced to mount a stack of cargo pallets, and to kneel and bow their heads where they were then fitted with dunce’s hats.
At this point the slogan painting had reached the accommodation block, the navigating bridge and funnel, and inside the officer’s accommodation where a photograph of the Queen was taken down and smashed. In the meantime I, as well as the Master and other officers kept our heads down in our respective cabins. Whoever was directing the mob then decided that I too should join the proceedings, and there was a pounding on my door. One of the Australian shepherds had joined me in my cabin and we were both extremely frightened. I said to him; “They don’t want you, quick, hide in my wardrobe”. Then the door gave in and I was bundled out and down the gangway where I was given the same treatment as my fellow officers.
I lost count of time as the shouting and yelling continued without let up. Every 30 minutes or so we were pulled off our makeshift platform, jet-planed and paraded around the quay where we were targeted by the more vicious Red Guards.