Busy Hands (Ongoing | 2019-)

A research project by Archive of the People

Research, photography, publication, sculptures, installation



Busy Hands is an ongoing artistic research project that examines an international exchange education program between Hong Kong and the Philippines during the 60s. The program aimed to gather leaders from labour and trade unions from Asian countries, it served as a platform for labour education, sharing information and knowledge production. The project explores the dynamics of Hong Kong’s participation in the program, which catalysed or supplied momentum for the subsequent social movement in the colony, the Hong Kong 1967 Leftist Riots.


The phrase “Busy Hands” was found on the education program pamphlet published by The Asian Labor Education Center (ALEC), University of the Philippines (UP). In order to promote the program officially, copies of the pamphlet were sent to selected Asian countries (one copy is currently in holdings at Hong Kong Public Records Office). Hong Kong had been invited since the 1st session and later joined the 4th session in 1961. “Busy Hands” refers to the phenomenon of overworked labour due to underdeveloped labour welfare, unionism and affiliated law; on the other hand, the project title metaphorizes various visible and invisible intervention that preached ideologies and initiated social movement during the tumultuous times.


In "Courses of Action" (Jun-July 2019, Goethe-Institut Hong Kong) , which features an early stage of the research-in-progress.



International Labour Organization (ILO) was established as an agency under the League of Nations (LN) after the First World War. After the Second World War, ILO reached agreement to collaborate on terms with The United Nations (UN) in 1946, it became the first specialised agency after the establishment of UN. Consequently, ILO advocated resolutions on labour welfare and rights in the first Asian Regional Conference in India. Without a doubt, ILO wanted to extend its scope to Asian countries especially to those were still in colonisation; it initiated a series of Workers' Education Programmes, and firstly introduced to the Philippines in late 1950s. As a result, Labor Education Centre (LEC) was established at University of The Philippines (UP), pilot programs were offered to local working class and labour unions in 1958. In 1960, LEC evolved into Asian Labor Education Center (ALEC), and the programme was officially expanded into Asian Labor Leadership Institute (ALLI), which covered a wider crowd of stakeholders in Asia, including Japan, South Korea, Ceylon, Malaya, Indonesia, Burma, “Free China”[1] (it refers to “Taiwan”), India, Vietnam, Thailand, Pakistan, Cambodia, Laos. The exchange program provided three-month intensive courses that covered democracy and unionism, labour rights, international labour movement, etc.

[1] ”Later ALEC changed “Free China” to Republic of China (ROC, in order to differentiate People’s Republic of China (PRC)).

The fear of the Left


For the Hong Kong’s participation in ALLI, instead of having an open call, the colonial government selectively approached limited number of local labour and trade unions and eventually chose representatives mainly from neutral and rightist unions with a vigilant manner [2]. In the early 60s, Hong Kong was under an influence of global leftist ideological movement, the timely ALLI touched British Hong Kong government’s nerve, which struggled to maintain the colony in a neutral socio-political position. There was a call for re-evaluation of labour welfare and affiliated policy from the public, since the colonial government capitalised rapid economic growth after the Second World War. The well-structured ALLI programme provided a platform for knowledge sharing, more importantly, advocated labour movement as a form of resistance. After the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution in Mainland China, the pro-China groups in Hong Kong initiated a series of labour strikes and riots, namely “Hong Kong 1967 Leftist Riots”, to support Chinese Communist Party (CCP). As a result, Hong Kong stopped joining ALLI in 1967 and then resumed after the rioting subsided in 1968 [3]. Instead of having a consistent labour movement in response to employee grievance, the riots were shortly developed into a nationalistic public disturbance against colonial governance.

The social disturbance was diminished in 1968, due to the terror spread by the local communists to Hong Kong citizens that directly led to a massive drawback from local support. The colonial government implemented the Employment Ordinance in the same year, which provided better protection and welfare for local employees. Though unionist criticised the benefit were far from what they asked for, but the diversification of industries and economic bloom in the following years brought wealth to all social classes.


By looking into the historical records, letters between ALLI and government officers, participation report written by union leaders, press affiliated to the riots, programme curriculum and promotional materials, Archive of the People examines a seemingly trivial exchange course between Hong Kong and the Philippines that unleashed what had been emotionally and ideologically accumulated in the society since the end of the war. The occurrence of the local labour movement and Hong Kong leftist riots, which are considered as a watershed of political development in post-colonial era and later influences the transfer of sovereignty. The project embraces an acausal logic to constitute the history of leftist inclination in Asia and its counter action from the establishment.


[2]  In Hong Kong’s participation in the 9th edition of ALLI in 1964, officers from Labour Department was nominated to accompany selected trade union and civil servant association representatives. Labour Department Commissioner David LAI implicitly expressed in a document that he concerned about sending both leftist and rightist labour unionist to ALLI could allow them to learn and later beneficial to local unionism. And officer David LIN realised the labour problems inherited in trade union movement in Hong Kong while it was prevalent in other Asian countries.


[3] No government records are found after 1968 in Hong Kong Public Records Office. Further research is needed to examine a full picture of the exchange program after 1968.

心繁手敏 (進行中 | 2019-)




Busy Hands 是一個進行中的藝術研究項目,作品關注一個60年代期間香港和菲律賓之間的國際交流教育計劃。該計劃旨在發展一個集勞工教育、信息共享和知識生產的平台,以求聚集來自亞洲國家的勞工和工會領導人。這個藝術研究項目探討香港參與該計劃後而產生的變革動力,並催化與供給動力予隨後的殖民地社會運動,即是1967年香港左派暴動。


在菲律賓大學亞洲勞工教育中心(ALEC)出版的勞工教育計劃小冊子中刊登了“Busy Hands”這一詞彙。為了正式推廣該計劃,當時ALEC把小冊子發送至經嚴選的亞洲國家(目前在香港政府檔案處藏有一本)。香港自第一屆講習會開始受到ALEC邀請,後來正式參與於1961年第四屆講習會。“Busy Hands”一方面是指由於勞工福利、工會主義和附屬法律不完善的情況下勞工有過度勞動的現象;另一方面,項目標題隱喻了在動盪時期,各種有形和無形之手干預、傳播意識形態和發動社會運動。






[1] 後來ALEC將“中華民國自由地區”改為中華民國(ROC),以區別 “中華人民共和國(PRC)。


就香港參與ALLI而言,當初殖民政府不是透過公開招募招攬參加者,反而是選擇性地接觸少數本地工會,並最終以謹慎的態度去挑選主要來自中立和右翼的工會作為代表 [2]。在60年代初期,香港受到全球左翼意識形態運動的影響, ALLI適時的邀請觸動了港英政府的神經,因為殖民地政府努力維持香港於中立的社會政治位置。由於港英政府把握了第二次世界大戰後的經濟急速增長,公眾對於重新評估勞工福利與附屬政策抱有很大的訴求。ALLI那嚴謹的課程結構不但為知識共享提供了一個平台,更重要的是,提倡勞工運動為一種反抗極權的形式。在中國大陸爆發文化大革命之後,為了支持和響應中國共產黨,香港的親中團體發起了一系列的罷工和騷亂,即“六七暴動”。結果,香港在1967年停止參與ALLI,然後在1968年暴動平息後再次派人參與 [3]。當時的暴動不是針對勞工待遇的不滿而進行持續的勞工運動,反而是開始反不久就發展成為反對殖民統治的民族主義式暴動。

由於當時本土共產黨對香港公民的散播了恐怖意識,直接導致失去本地民眾支持,最終騷亂在1968年間慢慢式微。 殖民地政府於同年實施了“僱傭條例”,為本地僱員提供更佳的保障和福利。 雖然工會批評其利益遠遠不及他們所要求的,但隨後數年的工業多元化和繁榮經濟為不同社會階層帶來了豐足的生活。





[2]  在1964年香港參與第九期ALLI時,勞工處的職員被提名陪同選定的工會和公務員協會代表出席講習會。 勞工部專員David LAI在一份文件中含蓄地表示,他擔心將左派和右派工會代表同時送到ALLI,會讓他們學習到有利於本地的工會主義和運動的知識。 另外一位勞工處代表David LIN意識到其他亞洲國家中工會運動很普遍發生,因此香港亦很有可能基於當時的勞工問題而爆發工會運動。

[3] 我們還未在香港政府檔案處的檔藏中發現任何關於1968年以後香港參與ALLI的政府記錄,因此仍需要進一步研究,以跟進1968年後港菲交換計劃的全貌。

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