‘Aberdeen’ harbour; the boat people live on the boats, 1949
Scope and Contents
Hong Kong in 1949 was a small British colony on the south coast of China. The colony includes the island of Hong Kong and the peninsula opposite on the Chinese mainland. Both the island and the end of the peninsula belonged permanently to Great Britain but the rest of the peninsula known as the New Territories was leased by China to Britain under an agreement that ended in 1997.
The island capital is Victoria and on the mainland, across the harbour, is the city of Kowloon. This is the English spelling of the Chinese name of Kowlung (Nine Dragons) which comes from the twisted shapes of the many mountain peaks on the mainland. On the south side of the island is the fishing port of Aberdeen (named after the port in Scotland) with its great number of Chinese craft known as junks and sampans. The fishermen and their families nearly all live on the boats.
During the war between China and Japan in the 1930s Hong Kong became seriously overcrowded but when the Japanese occupied the colony in 1941 things became so difficult that many people returned to China and, as a result, only 750,000 were in Hong Kong when the war ended.
However, many Chinese returned again during the Civil War and Victoria and Kowloon became overcrowded with thousands living in squatters’ shacks outside the cities. The population rose at this time to between 3 and 4 million.
The photographs in this exhibition were taken at the time when these millions of extra people were pouring into the colony (i.e. 1949) and of course the Second World War had only been over for a few years. A look at Hong Kong today would show some great changes, especially if you were to compare an up to date picture of the harbour and Victoria with one of 61 years ago (number 1). However, I imagine that the boat people of Aberdeen still go fishing and live on their boats as they always did.
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