1950s in Hong Kong
1950s in Hong Kong
Hong Kong
Hong Kong is one of two Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China , the other being Macau. A city-state situated on China's south coast and enclosed by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea, it is renowned for its expansive skyline and deep natural harbour...

began after the Japanese rule ended in 1945 with sovereignty returning to the British. However, the Nationalist-Communist Civil War was renewed in mainland China. It prompted a large influx of refugees from the mainland, causing a huge population surge. The government struggled to accommodate these immigrants. Unrest in China also prompted businesses to relocate their assets and capital from Shanghai
Shanghai is the largest city by population in China and the largest city proper in the world. It is one of the four province-level municipalities in the People's Republic of China, with a total population of over 23 million as of 2010...

 to Hong Kong. Together with the cheap labour of the immigrants, the seeds of Hong Kong's economic miracle
Economic miracle
The terms "economic miracle", "economic boom", "tiger economy" or simply "miracle" have come to refer to great periods of change, particularly periods of dramatic economic growth, in the recent histories of a number of countries:-Post-World War II:...

 in the second half of the 20th century were sown.


As the communists drew near to a victory in early 1949, there were fears that Hong Kong was going to be invaded by the communists. The British government was determined to keep Hong Kong as a capitalist outpost within a communist sphere of influence
Sphere of influence
In the field of international relations, a sphere of influence is a spatial region or conceptual division over which a state or organization has significant cultural, economic, military or political influence....

, though the memories of the Berlin Blockade
Berlin Blockade
The Berlin Blockade was one of the first major international crises of the Cold War and the first resulting in casualties. During the multinational occupation of post-World War II Germany, the Soviet Union blocked the Western Allies' railway and road access to the sectors of Berlin under Allied...

 and the perceived antagonism of communist governments was still fresh in their mind. The garrison
Garrison is the collective term for a body of troops stationed in a particular location, originally to guard it, but now often simply using it as a home base....

 was reinforced and plans of emergency evacuation
Emergency evacuation
Emergency evacuation is the immediate and rapid movement of people away from the threat or actual occurrence of a hazard. Examples range from the small scale evacuation of a building due to a bomb threat or fire to the large scale evacuation of a district because of a flood, bombardment or...

 to Australia were made. However, the People's Liberation Army
People's Liberation Army
The People's Liberation Army is the unified military organization of all land, sea, strategic missile and air forces of the People's Republic of China. The PLA was established on August 1, 1927 — celebrated annually as "PLA Day" — as the military arm of the Communist Party of China...

 were ordered to stop advancing at the Shenzhen
Shenzhen is a major city in the south of Southern China's Guangdong Province, situated immediately north of Hong Kong. The area became China's first—and one of the most successful—Special Economic Zones...

-Hong Kong
Hong Kong
Hong Kong is one of two Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China , the other being Macau. A city-state situated on China's south coast and enclosed by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea, it is renowned for its expansive skyline and deep natural harbour...

 border, and Hong Kong remained a British colony.

Hong Kong was a valuable trade centre at the mouth of China, and hoped that by retaining this connection doing business with the new government in Beijing would be easier. To give up Hong Kong to the communists without a fight would be seen as a national weakness
Weakness is a symptom represented, medically, by a number of different conditions, including: lack of muscle strength, malaise, dizziness, or fatigue. The causes are many and can be divided into conditions that have true or perceived muscle weakness. True muscle weakness is a primary symptom of a...

 in the face of the growing communist threat in Europe and Asia, especially the Emergency in Malaya
Malayan Emergency
The Malayan Emergency was a guerrilla war fought between Commonwealth armed forces and the Malayan National Liberation Army , the military arm of the Malayan Communist Party, from 1948 to 1960....

. Talks did come up at the British Parliament to trade Hong Kong back to China in case it could not maintain entrepôt trade
An entrepôt is a trading post where merchandise can be imported and exported without paying import duties, often at a profit. This profit is possible because of trade conditions, for example, the reluctance of ships to travel the entire length of a long trading route, and selling to the entrepôt...

. The people were outraged, but was committed to turning Hong Kong into a manufacturing center.



After the war, the 1950s began with a large number of impoverished people without jobs and natural resources. The problem was further compounded with a flood of refugees from mainland China who were able to cross due to the lack of border controls until June 1951. The People's Republic of China was established in 1949 under the new communist party
Communist Party of China
The Communist Party of China , also known as the Chinese Communist Party , is the founding and ruling political party of the People's Republic of China...

. As many as 100,000 people fled to Hong Kong each month under the new regime, many of whom were rich farmers and capitalists who brought with them management experience, though even more were criminals who established the influential triad society in Hong Kong. By the mid 1950s, Hong Kong had increased its population to a staggering 2.2 million. By 1956, Hong Kong's population density became one of the highest in the world.

Rising buildings

In 1953, the Shek Kip Mei
Shek Kip Mei
Shek Kip Mei, originally known as Kap Shek Mi, is an area in New Kowloon, the North Eastern Kowloon Peninsula of Hong Kong.-History:A major fire on 25 December 1953, destroyed the Shek Kip Mei shantytown of immigrants from Mainland China that had fled to Hong Kong, leaving 53,000 people...

 fire left 53,000 homeless. This served as the impetus for a major change: Governor Alexander Grantham
Alexander Grantham
Sir Alexander William George Herder Grantham, GCMG was a British colonial administrator who governed Hong Kong and Fiji.-Early life, colonial administration career:...

 drew up an emergency housing program that introduced the "multi storey building" as a common building form. His structures were capable of housing 2,500 people in a fire/flood-proof structure. The idea was to house as many and as fast as possible to deal with the homeless shelter crisis. Every floor in the building included a communial room, washroom, and toilet facility. Each person was granted 24 square metres of space. The high rise buildings would become the norm, as skyscrapers have a small footprint compared to their overall volume.


At the end of the Japanese occupation, the government held a monopoly on the purchase and distribution of food and raw materials including rice and cotton yarn
Yarn is a long continuous length of interlocked fibres, suitable for use in the production of textiles, sewing, crocheting, knitting, weaving, embroidery and ropemaking. Thread is a type of yarn intended for sewing by hand or machine. Modern manufactured sewing threads may be finished with wax or...

. Price controls by the government were not eliminated until 1953. The period can best be summarised by low resources, and an endless increase in population. Many mainlanders would cross the border to Hong Kong and establish illegal huts
Hut (dwelling)
A hut is a small and crude shelter, usually used for dwelling. Its design favors local techniques and materials to allow for swift and inexpensive construction.-Modern use:...

 on roof tops and edge of mountains. The integration of different groups from China and original tenants of Hong Kong would also create a society in which everyone had to wrestle with the overwhelming number of language dialects.


Those who were born in Hong Kong were provided education and housing by the government. The first group of refugees were only granted temporary asylums since the government believed they would return to the mainland. An estimated 9% of the government's expense were spent on education and healthcare. The curriculum
See also Syllabus.In formal education, a curriculum is the set of courses, and their content, offered at a school or university. As an idea, curriculum stems from the Latin word for race course, referring to the course of deeds and experiences through which children grow to become mature adults...

 made it crucial that students did not feel associated with Hong Kong or China in any national sense. It emphasised that they were the middleman for the Sino-British
Anglo-Chinese relations
British–Chinese relations , also known as Sino-British relations and Anglo-Chinese relations, refers to the interstate relations between China and the United Kingdom. Although on opposing sides of the Cold War, both countries were allies during World War II, and are members of the UN...

 trade relationships.

An internal government paper in the period indicated about 34 schools in the urban area were actually classified as controlled by the communists including 24 in the New Territories
New Territories
New Territories is one of the three main regions of Hong Kong, alongside Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula. It makes up 86.2% of Hong Kong's territory. Historically, it is the region described in The Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory...

. Another 32 schools by leftist elements such as staff and teachers. A new ordinance was passed in 1952 to allow any Director of education to shutdown a school believed to be controlled by political indoctrination. The refugees mostly sought their education and social services from Christian churches. Actions were taken at the Heung Tao Middle school and Nanfang College.


One of the main form of entertainment in the 1950s was Cantonese opera
Cantonese opera
Cantonese opera is one of the major categories in Chinese opera, originating in southern China's Cantonese culture. It is popular in Guangdong, Guangxi, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore and Malaysia. Like all versions of Chinese opera, it is a traditional Chinese art form, involving music, singing,...

. While the art remained relatively static, if not declining in China, it was still popular in Hong Kong. Mainland China was housing new programs to train new artists at the Guangdong
Guangdong is a province on the South China Sea coast of the People's Republic of China. The province was previously often written with the alternative English name Kwangtung Province...

 opera house in the 1950s, many of the artists would flee to Hong Kong and bring more addition to the art. The traditional opera form would begin to overlap with big screen cinema
Cinema of Hong Kong
The cinema of Hong Kong is one of the three major threads in the history of Chinese language cinema, alongside the cinema of China, and the cinema of Taiwan...

s starting with the 50s. The Shaw Brothers
Shaw Brothers Studio
The Shaw Brothers Studio , owned by Shaw Brothers Ltd., was the foremost and the largest movie production company of Hong Kong movies.From their distribution base in Singapore where they founded parent company Shaw Organization in 1924, and as a strategic development of their movie distribution...

 would also produce some of the first groups of martial art films. Their notable sword fighting style would be emulated on many movies and TV dramas for years to come

Law and order

The Hong Kong 1956 riots
Hong Kong 1956 riots
The Hong Kong 1956 riots began with looting and attacks by pro-Nationalist on pro-Communist citizens and property in Hong Kong during Double Ten Day 10 October 1956, and soon developed into large, and violent, riots.-Tensions:...

 was one of the first full-scale riots in the territory. It showed the government the dangers of low wages, long working hours, and overcrowded conditions. Tighter law control would diminish the triads in the period. Most of the social problems in the 1950s dealt with nationalist and communist factions on Hong Kong soil. The British government feared the communists would stir anti-British sentiments and pushed for any anti-communist policies in the foreign office in London.


Hong Kong Taxi service was founded in 1947 with just a mere 329 cars. By the end of the decade in 1959, it had expanded to 851 cars. The service became more popular, since it does not require passengers to follow a particular bus route.


In 1953, two land reclamation
Land reclamation in Hong Kong
Land is in short supply in Hong Kong, and land reclamation has been conducted there since the mid-19th century.-Projects:One of the earliest and famous project was the Praya Reclamation Scheme, which added 50 to of land in 1890 during the second phase of construction...

 projects added 3000000 square feet (278,709.1 m²) to Hong Kong. The first project would specifically add runway space to the Kai Tak Airport
Kai Tak Airport
Kai Tak Airport was the international airport of Hong Kong from 1925 until 1998. It was officially known as the Hong Kong International Airport from 1954 to 6 July 1998, when it was closed and replaced by the new Hong Kong International Airport at Chek Lap Kok, 30 km to the west...

. Additional land would turn Kwun Tong
Kwun Tong
Kwun Tong is an area in Kwun Tong District, situated at the eastern part of the Kowloon Peninsula, and its boundary stretches from Lion Rock in the north to Lei Yue Mun in the south, and from the winding paths of Kowloon Peak in the east to the north coast of the former Kai Tak Airport runway in...

 and Tsuen Wan
Tsuen Wan
Tsuen Wan is a bay in the Kowloon area of Hong Kong, opposite to Tsing Yi Island across Rambler Channel. The market town of Tsuen Wan emerged for the surrounding villages and fleets of fishing boats in the area. The town is around the present-day Tsuen Wan Station of the MTR...

 into industrial towns. The early industrial centres churned out anything that could be produced in a small space, like buttons, artificial flowers, umbrellas, textiles, enamelware, footwear and plastics.

Hospital and hospitality

The handling of the refugees required the collaboration of numerous services and programs. The British Red Cross
British Red Cross
The British Red Cross Society is the United Kingdom branch of the worldwide impartial humanitarian organisation the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. The society was formed in 1870, and is a registered charity with over 31,000 volunteers and 2,600 staff. At the heart of their work...

 would set up their first branch in Hong Kong in 12 July 1950 as the Hong Kong Red Cross
Hong Kong Red Cross
The Hong Kong Red Cross is the national Red Cross society of Hong Kong as part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. It was established officially on 12 July 1950 as a branch of the British Red Cross Society in Hong Kong...

. They started in the Lai Chi Kok Hospital and began the Patient Concern Service. Blood donation
Blood donation
A blood donation occurs when a person voluntarily has blood drawn and used for transfusions or made into medications by a process called fractionation....

 also began in 1952 with 483 people donating in the first year. A Disaster Relief service was established in 1953 mostly to deal with the Shek Kip Mei fire. The Hong Kong Tourism Association
Hong Kong Tourism Board
The Hong Kong Tourism Board is a Government-subvented body founded in 2001. The Board replaced the Hong Kong Tourist Association established in 1957...

 was established in 1957.


The banks at the time were not regulated by the government. There were no central banks or monetary policies. The governor did not want to regulate the Hong Kong Stock Exchange
Hong Kong Stock Exchange
The Hong Kong Stock Exchange is a stock exchange located in Hong Kong. It is Asia's third largest stock exchange in terms of market capitalization behind the Tokyo Stock Exchange and the Shanghai Stock Exchange and fifth largest in the world...

even though it has become a serious problem in financing the fast growing economy at the time. Manufacturers constantly complained about the shortage of investments. Pressure was coming from within and outside Hong Kong to get the policies fixed.
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