HISTORY – Photos from 1962 of Mainland Refugees Fleeing Famine Rejected by HK 12


As war and famine ravaged the mainland, hundreds of thousands fled to British Hong Kong during the 40s, 50s and 60s.

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LIFE Magazine captured the experiences of some of these migrants in an issue from May, 1962.

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Some had travelled thousands of miles to begin a new life in the British colony. Meanwhile, the US welcomed only skilled workers.

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A quick cigarette before being returned to the mainland…

Many refugees, however, were sent straight back to the mainland. Sympathetic Hong Kongers lined the streets throwing food parcels into departing trucks destined for the border.

Hong Kong based historian Frank Dikötter estimated that, at minimum, 45 million people died from starvation, overwork and state violence during the Great Leap Forward.

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Many of those who were accepted into Hong Kong ended up in shanty towns and refugee camps – none of which exist today.

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As the government feared over-crowding, more were turned away.

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Border controls were only imposed in HK in June 1951 – two years after the People’s Republic was reorganised as the Communist Party.

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HK border patrol checking papers

For much of the 1950s, as many as 100,000 people fled to Hong Kong each month…

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…Some of whom were rich farmers and experienced capitalists. Others were criminals who went on to establish the triad society in the city.

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Hong Kong’s population in the 1960s was estimated at 3 million.

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Half of the population was under the age of 25 and the group became Hong Kong’s baby boom generation.

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Ghurka troops in the British forces guarding the border

Food shortages north of the border were deemed ‘serious natural calamities’ by Peking.

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Click here for LIFE’s photos of the leftist riots which followed just a few years later.

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Blog posts charting Hong Kong’s colourful past…

Pictorial histories of local landmarks and events…