As war and famine ravaged the mainland, hundreds of thousands fled to British Hong Kong during the 40s, 50s and 60s.
LIFE Magazine captured the experiences of some of these migrants in an issue from May, 1962.
Some had travelled thousands of miles to begin a new life in the British colony. Meanwhile, the US welcomed only skilled workers.
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.
Many of those who were accepted into Hong Kong ended up in shanty towns and refugee camps – none of which exist today.
As the government feared over-crowding, more were turned away.
Border controls were only imposed in HK in June 1951 – two years after the People’s Republic was reorganised as the Communist Party.
For much of the 1950s, as many as 100,000 people fled to Hong Kong each month…
…Some of whom were rich farmers and experienced capitalists. Others were criminals who went on to establish the triad society in the city.
Hong Kong’s population in the 1960s was estimated at 3 million.
Half of the population was under the age of 25 and the group became Hong Kong’s baby boom generation.
Food shortages north of the border were deemed ‘serious natural calamities’ by Peking.
Click here for LIFE’s photos of the leftist riots which followed just a few years later.
Blog posts charting Hong Kong’s colourful past…
- 1000+ ‘Before and After’ Photos of Old & New Hong Kong.
- An Elephant in Kowloon: Photos from Lai Chi Kok Amusement Park.
- Bustling Hong Kong of 1947: Historical Photos from Mark Kauffman.
- Colourised & Restored Photos of Hong Kong 150 Years Ago.
- Cool Vintage Hong Kong Tourism Posters.
- Execution of Namoa Pirates in Kowloon, 1891.
- Hedda Morrison’s Hong Kong: Photos from 1942, Beautifully Restored.
- HK’s Boom Years: The Best of Fan Ho.
- Hong Kong’s Most Offensive Place Names.
- How Hong Kong Was Made: Iconic Buildings Under Construction.
- Mainland Refugees Fleeing Famine Rejected by HK.
- Margaret Thatcher in Hong Kong.
- More Vintage Photos of Old Hong Kong.
- Newly Restored Old Hong Kong Newsreels: Part 1, Refugees.
- Newly Restored Old Hong Kong Newsreels: Part 2.
- Newly Unearthed Photos of 1950s Hong Kong.
- Pictures of Hong Kong in 1972.
- Rare Shots from Inside the Old Kowloon Walled City.
- Shing Mun Redoubt, HK’s Secret WWII Tunnels.
- Street Scenes in Dreamy Colour 1954-2004.
- The ‘Great Chinese Takeaway’ – the 1997 Handover.
- The 1958 Hong Kong Cha Cha Championship Winner (Bruce Lee).
- The 1967 Hong Kong Riots.
- The Bombing of Hong Kong by the U.S. 14th Air Force.
- The Day a Cargo Ship Washed up on Cheung Chau Beach.
- The Hakka Walled Village of Tsang Tai Uk, Sha Tin.
- The Iconic ‘Two Girls’ Kwong Sang Hong Cosmetics Brand.
- The Luxury British Liner at the Bottom of Victoria Harbour.
- Unseen Royal Geographic Photos.
- When the MTR Was New.
Pictorial histories of local landmarks and events…
- A Brief Visual History: HK Police Vehicles & Uniforms.
- A Brief Visual History: HK’s Old Airport, Kai Tak.
- A Brief Visual History: Kowloon Walled City.
- A Brief Visual History: The Evolution of the Hong Kong Skyline.
- A Brief Visual History: The Peak Tram.
- A Brief Visual History: The Peninsula Hotel.
- A Brief Visual History: Tsim Sha Tsui Clock Tower.
- A Brief Visual History: Yau Ma Tei Theatre.