Historical Review: If You Can Break Through, You’re a Hong Konger!

September 2, 2019 Updated: September 3, 2019

From the 1950s to 1970s the Shenzhen River, which originates from the top of Wutong Mountain, was called China’s “Berlin Wall” by the international community. For millions of people who yearned for freedom, it was the dividing line between heaven and hell.

Hong Kong almost became the nearest “paradise” after the mainland’s various political persecutions starting from the 1950s, including massacres, starvation, and poverty which forced people to find ways to escape.

The way to escape includes not only cliffs, sharks, and floods but also border guards strafing with machine guns and patrol dogs. If one doesn’t make it, then death, torture, and imprisonment await. Over three decades, more than two million people had successfully crossed the border to Hong Kong; a far bigger number perished.

Those who could break through became Hong Kongers who can breathe free air.

Ma Sicong Fleeing to Hong Kong

In 1966 Ma Sicong, president of the Central Conservatory of Music, and more than a dozen artists were humiliated and tortured by the Communist Red Guards. On the night of Jan. 15, 1967, Ma traversed to Hong Kong with family and his precious violin, which caused a sensation all over the world. Once free, Ma took off the Mao Zedong badge from his chest and threw it into the rolling sea. In 1968, Ma was designated as a “traitor to the enemy” by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

In Why I Escaped from China – the Horrible Truth About the Cultural Revolution, Ma wrote, “The cultural revolution is destroying China’s intellectuals. What happened last summer and fall threw me completely into despair, and forced me and my family to become fugitives, becoming ‘hungry ghosts’ drifting around.”

After Ma fled, his mother-in-law, niece, and cook who stayed in mainland China were persecuted to death by the CCP. Two nephews were sentenced to 12 and seven years in prison. His brother-in-law Wang Heng, Wang Yougang, and sister-in-law He Qiong were sentenced and confined. Ma’s second brother, Ma Siwu, a teacher at Shanghai College of Foreign Languages, couldn’t bear the torture and jumped to his own death.

In 1985, the CCP “rehabilitated” Ma and repeatedly invited him back to the mainland, which was rejected. Ma kept telling his children, “I have not wronged my country… the devil has done evil, and the truth will come out one day.”

Ma Sicong (R) and his son Ma Rulong play in an ensemble in 1962. (public domain)

The Educated Youth Who Risked Their Lives to Escape

At that time, the CCP treated those who smuggled themselves to Hong Kong with punishment of treason. Besides arrest, if the border guards couldn’t stop smugglers, they were mandated to shoot them to death. Many people were shot dead on the beach and in the mountains. If they were caught by the guards, they would be beaten, re-educated through hard labor, criticized, and denounced. Many attempted refugees were either injured, starved, or persecuted to death. There were many who committed suicide, while countless others drowned.

The period from 1972 to 1974 was the peak of flight to Hong Kong among educated Chinese youths. In Guangzhou Province, people call smuggling as “pawns” or “anchor.” According to participants’ memories, every middle school in Guangzhou had young people fleeing to Hong Kong, with an average of at least six or seven students in each class. Most anchors didn’t succeed for the first time. It’s normal to be imprisoned two to three times.

Wu, a 12th grade student at Guangzhou Peiying Middle School in 1968, had been put into “bamboo prison” due to smuggling failure. “Bamboo prison” were one person-wide cages with razor blades of bamboo on the ground. If people inside got tired and tried to sit or squat, they would be pierced.

Shun’de City even set up water prisons to detain potential refugees. Female smugglers became infertile for life due to immersion in seawater for a long time while crossing the sea. Yet they kept suffering in water prisons after being caught back.

An educated youth who did manage to flee Hong Kong recalled, “In August 1974, for the fifth time I finally succeeded in crossing. After swimming for five hours, the three of us landed on Pingzhou island… The police put us—there must have been 17 or 18 of us—onto a boat and it took three to four hours to travel from Pingzhou island to Hong Kong. At that time, the sea was full of dead bodies. We saw a few bodies every now and then. Some bodies were only left with upper torso; the lower bodies had already been eaten by fish. The ocean’s color had a red tinge. Several women onboard the ship said a guy who came with them had been eaten by sharks. Some others bled to death after their feet were bitten off…”

Even so, the will and determination of these refugees couldn’t be stopped. A youth who escaped to Hong Kong was caught six times. On the seventh time, the militiamen were too embarrassed to catch him again. Finally, he managed to escape to Hong Kong.

Gathering at Hua Mountain  

From May 5 to May 25, 1962, 300,000 famine victims fled to Hong Kong from Guangdong Province alone in just 20 days. The British government had to take action. During daytime, famine victims scattered and broke across the border. At night, they gathered and sneaked into the New Territories of Hong Kong. A storm on May 21 flooded Shenzhen River with bodies of refugees. Famine victims who escaped from death faced deportation by Hong Kong government.

At this critical moment, Hong Kong’s people had shown great compassion and love. Tens of thousands of Hong Kong citizens launched the “help the people in need” campaign, delivering food, clothing and water to those fleeing across the border. Major Hong Kong media also protested to the Hong Kong government and urged it to take humanitarian action.

The Hua Mountain, located at Shenzhen River’s south bank, was undeveloped then. About 30,000 fugitives gathered there. They were men and women, old and young, all dressed in rags and hid in the bushes. They endured hunger as well as biting insects. Those who were separated shouted their families’ names with sad and shrill voices. 

After Hong Kong’s people learned about this, workers put down iron tongs, shop managers closed their stores, vegetable farmers dropped their baskets. Around 100,000 Hong Kong residents went to Hua Mountain with relief supplies and medicine. Some tried their best to bring fugitives down the mountain and give safe harbor to them. The Hong Kong press did follow-up reports.

“There were so many people crying that the ground on the ridge was wet,” one reporter wrote. Thousands of police were moved and  passively resisted their command.

The British Hong Kong government again issued a strict order to repatriate refugees who crossed the border. Yet outside the shelter there were three to four thousand Hong Kongers sleeping in the open air, asking the police to release the refugees. On May 22, as the repatriation vehicles full of asylum-seekers drove out of the shelter, a startling scene emerged. Suddenly someone laid down in the middle of the road, blocking the vehicles. Then others followed; thousands of people stood in the middle of the road. Ten thousand Hong Kong citizens stopped police cars on the road. People took the opportunity to pull the fugitives out of cars and quickly disappeared into the crowd.

If You Can Break Through, You’re a Hong Konger

Under pressure, the British Hong Kong authorities changed and began to build resettlement areas for refugees. A “relocation building” was built. “There are 64 to 86 rooms on each floor. Each room can house six people and each building can house 2,000 to 3,000 people. There are male and female bathrooms, toilets and public water hoses in each building. The rent is only $14 per month.”

The most famous one one is the Tiu Keng Leng refugee camp in Hong Kong. It was built in 1950 in Kowloon. It was used by the British Hong Kong government as a place to officially provide aid to refugees from the mainland. The residents were registered by the Hong Kong Social Bureau. In June 1950, the number of refugees reached 7,000. By 1960s, the number had grown to more than 30,000.

In the 1950s, a large number of capitalists, those considered to be right wing by the CCP, landlord elites, and former Nationalist generals fled to Hong Kong. Most of these people were well-educated. Tiu Keng Leng refugee camp organized an autonomous office and established a neighborhood administrative system to keep it operating smoothly.

After the great flight to Hong Kong in 1962, more and more mainland people came to Hong Kong. Hong Kongers advocated the introduction of a processing industry to solve the employment problem among Hong Kong refugees.

From the 1950s to 1970s (before 1974), British Hong Kong government implemented a touch base policy for those who fled to Hong Kong. That is to say, those who arrived at the territory of Hong Kong became Hong Kongers and were given legal identity. Many educated youth who fled to Hong Kong thereby obtained official Hong Kong resident identity. In other words, as long as you could break through, you would be admitted as a Hong Konger!

Tiu Keng Leng refugee camp as seen by Tseung Kwan O, from Sai Kung District, New Territories, Hong Kong. Taken in 1951. (public domain)

International Humanitarian Relief

On May 22, 1962, the Kuomintang government in Taiwan decided to set up a special case group, donating 1,000 tons of rice to those who had fled to Hong Kong and helping them migrate to Taiwan on a voluntary basis. In June and July, two batches of mainland refugees emigrated to Taiwan from Hong Kong. For refugees, Hong Kong and Kowloon refugee council gave each person HK$70 as relief fund, while the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief gave them clothes.

In late May, the U.S. government proposed to provide humanitarian assistance to Chinese refugees worldwide, and called on sparsely populated countries such as Australia and Canada to accept refugees as much as possible.

In June, Canada began accepting immigration applications for refugees in Hong Kong. Australian citizens also expressed willingness to establish farms for those who fled to Hong Kong.

During this period, Chen Xiangmei, President of the U.S. NGO “China Refugee Relief Association,” flew to Hong Kong with a large sum of money to discuss resettlement measures with Hong Kong government. She even went to the camps and directly contacted the refugees to seek opinions.

In the end most of the refugees stayed in Hong Kong, some went to Taiwan, and a small number emigrated to the United States, Canada, Australia. A small subset then transferred to Brazil, Jamaica, and other countries.

The CCP Smeared Hong Kong and Deceived the Mainland People

At first, the CCP made fleeing to Hong Kong a crime of treason, but it had little effect. Then the Party adopted “ideological education,” which motivated the masses to sever ties with their relatives in Hong Kong and encouraged them to expose and report. This involved listening to revolutionary songs, learning Mao Zedong’s works, performing street-corner skits and model operas, and defaming Hong Kong as a bastion of the “luxury capitalist.”

Actor OuYang Dong said a girl in a street play fled to Hong Kong and died in the street. Later, people learned that life in Hong Kong wasn’t as “miserable” as advertised. The quality of their life was many times better than that of the mainland. In the 1960s and 1970s, many people in the mainland had no food, while Hong Kong residents already had televisions and washing machines. Ou said all performers in his opera troupe had fled to Hong Kong. Not a single one was left. 

At that time, the mainland carried out a defamation propaganda campaign against Hong Kong. An official document called “Hell on Earth—Hong Kong” described Hong Kong as the world’s most immoral city, full of gangs, and the world’s largest base for drug production and trafficking. Lastly, it said that the number of suicides in Hong Kong is No.1 in the world.

In 1962, a reporter for the CCP mouthpiece People’s Daily was despatched to Shenzhen by his superiors. A cantonese-speaking chief of the police station accompanied the reporter to Kowloon, Hong Kong. However, what the reporter saw in Hong Kong was that its economy booming and its people civilized, wealthy, and compassionate, not at all similar to what the CCP propagated.

‘The Most Terrible Thing of the CCP is its Brainwashing’

The democracy and freedom under the British Hong Kong government, though different from the presidential democracy in the United States, does not discount universal value of human rights. People are born free and private property cannot be infringed. Hong Kong is not only a paradise for adventurers, but also a haven for wise and diligent workers.

More than 40 of the top 100 richest people in Hong Kong at the end of the last century were refugees. The novelist and screenwriter Ni Kuang, one of Hong Kong’s “Four Talents,” was also a Hong Kong refugee.

In the winter of 1955 Ni Kuang, 20 at the time, was confined for several months on charges of being a “counter-revolutionary” after he and several other soldiers broke down a wooden bridge to make a fire during a coal shipment at Zhaoji Farm in Bao’an City, Inner Mongolia. Ni faced a long prison term after a dog he secretly bred bit his team leader.

In May 1956, Ni Kuang arrived in Dalian City by train overnight through Tsitsihar, then sailed to Shanghai and fled south. On the way, he ate mice, ants, and cotton to appease his hunger. Three months later, he arrived in Guangzhou. In July 1957, he successfully fled to Hong Kong through Macao. 

The day after sneaking ashore from Kowloon, Ni went to the government and received his ID card, becoming a Hong Kong citizen. After that he worked in a dyehouse. Ni liked reading since he was a child and is well versed with the ancient Chinese book Mencius, which documented conversations of Confucian thinker and philosopher Mencius. 

In late 1957 he published his first novel, Buried Alive, in The Kung Sheung Daily News of Hong Kong. The novel tells the story of a landlady buried alive with her grandson in her arms during China’s land reform period. He was paid HK $90 for a novel he wrote in a few hours, equivalent to a month’s income in the dye factory.

Ni, whose new freedom was a great coup, began his full-time writing career and became one of the most prolific writers of his time. Together with Jin Yong, Huang zhan, and Cai Lan, he was named as one of Hong Kong’s “Four Talents.”

At a September 2006 symposium, Ni Kuang said that he had witnessed a lot of CCP’s retrogressions. The most terrible thing of the CCP is that it wants to brainwash, and to control the thoughts and wills of the people. People living in the CCP’s system will only become completely obedient machines. And that’s very horrific.

On April 7, 2019, Ni Kuang was interviewed about his science fiction novel Chasing the Dragon on the radio and television program “Hong Kong Connection.” Ni Kuang said that in the story, a city in the East will perish not due to any natural disaster, but due to the loss of all its merits. Ni Kuang said frankly that the city in this story is Hong Kong without its freedom.

Just two months after Ni Kuang’s interview, Hong Kongers began the unprecedented march to defend their freedom. In the past, if you can break through, you can become a Hong Konger. Today’s Hong Kongers can also make it through!

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