Hong Kong in the late Fifties and early Sixties
A very good way to check on the political loyalties of an organisation used to be to check whether it closed on the First of October or the Tenth of October. If the former, it was a PRC business; if the latter, it was a Taiwan business. (This distinction applied even to the girlie bars of Wanchai )
In the Fifties, farming in the New Territories was becoming increasingly marginal, and the Government was concerned about the possible risk of Communist infiltration across the border.
The New Territories farmers seemed to be the group most likely to be targetted by the Mainland, so the Government came up with a Brilliant Solution to both problems at once.
They offered farmers in the New Territories Assisted Passages to Britain. An awful lot of people took up the offer, moved to Britain and started either laundries or restaurants.
A cynic would point out that the reason why most Chinese restaurants and takeaways in Britain produce food that no Chinese gourmet would recognise is that their owners never had their hearts in the restaurant trade!
The farmland of the New Territories became, in effect, depopulated; the hillside farms were abandoned and eventually they were taken into the Country Parks - one of modern Hong Kong's great sucesses.
The 1960s were probably the defining decade in the formation of the Hong Kong identity as it is today.
There were severe typhoons, there were water shortages, there was a serious threat of invasion from the Mainland and there were the worst riots in the history of Hong Kong.
Despite this, the population and the GDP per head of that population went on growing like Topsy. In 1960, Hong Kong was an unimportant unimportant place; in 1970 it was marked on the map of the world that most people carry round in their heads.
We now come to the Governorship of Sir Robert Black, from 1958 to '64. Another intellectual; he read Latin and Greek for pleasure and had spent the years from 1942 to 1945 as a guest of the Emperor of Japan, having been captured whilst organising guerillas, asa member of the Intelligence Corps, in North Borneo.
He is best remembered for founding the Chinese University of Hong Kong (from the language of tuition - HKU uses English, CUHK uses Chinese), for handling the peak of the refugee influx (triggered by the famine that followed the Great Leap Forward) in the course of which he demanded and got British financial support for the public housing project, and for dealing with a sucession of natural disasters.
To start with the natural disasters, Typhoon Wanda was the second worst typhoon in the history of Hong Kong*; certainly no typhoons since have been as bad. It therefore acquired legendary status with those who experienced it telling those who did not, “You’ve never seen a real typhoon!” for several generations afterwards.
Hong Kong also became famous, or infamous, for Hong Kong Flu, because the H3N2 type flu pandemic of 1968-9 was first observed in Hong Kong – the flu was a bird flu type. About one in two hundred died in Hong Kong - and about 33,000 in the USA, whence the virus was carried by returning servicemen.
Hong Kong was extremely short of water – one third of Hong Kong’s land area is rain water catchment, but its nowhere near enough – in the Fifties the use of sea water for toilet flushing, distributed through separate mains, was started and it carries on today, but the growth in population outstripped the water resources. A desalination plant was constructed, but it was horribly expensive to run.
In 1963 water was rationed to four hours per day. With people in the squatter camps relying on standpipes, this was pretty severe.
The only solution was to buy water from the mainland, and a pipeline was built from the Dong Jiang (East River), one of the tributaries of the Pearl River, to Hong Kong, opening in 1964.
Initially the water supplied through this pipeline was 230,000 tons per year – today it is 1.1 billion tons, and accounts for 70% of the water consumed in the SAR.
Obviously, this gave the Mainland a foot on Hong Kong’s throat, and the “water weapon” was in fact used during the 1960’s, although HK Government websites don’t say that now.
This, along with the question of land leases in the New Terrritories, was the second factor which made the eventual return of Hong Kong to China inevitable.
* The worst typhoon was in November 1937; at that time the naming system was not in use. the typhoon hit at night accompanied by a severe storm surge - storm surges, caused by the low pressure over the typhoon centre, generating a rise in sea water of maybe a metre or so, across maybe a hundred miles of sea, are magnified immensely by the deep bays in the coastline of Guangdong, including Hong Kong, and can reach five metres and more. Hong Kong harbour itself, having two entrances, is less subject to these effects. The 1937 typhoon killed 11,000 people, mainly because such a surge occurred at night and had not been predicted.