Hong Kong Annual Report, 1954/Chapter 2

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When in January, 1841 the British first landed on Hong Kong Island the total population was about 2,000 persons engaged in fishing or farming, but shortly afterwards the population began to increase and by the middle of 1841 the population was about 6,000. The population grew steadily for the next 100 years, and Hong Kong developed into a large city and port, with a population estimated at 1,600,000 before the Japanese attack on the Colony in December 1941. When the Colony was liberated in 1945 the population had been reduced to between 500,000 and 600,000, but the next three years saw a large influx of people from China, largely of young men and women looking for employment. In 1948 the population was estimated to be 1,800,000. The civil war in China increased the flow of refugees into Hong Kong in 1949 and 1950, and although some of these later returned to China when conditions became more settled, large numbers preferred to remain in the Colony.

In addition to the great influxes of recent years the population has been further increased by a rapidly rising birth rate. The difference between the annual rate of registered births and deaths, which increased from 29,000 in 1947 to 64,000 in 1954, has added a total of 365,000 to the population in the past eight years, and if the number of births continues to increase as it has done since 1947 the excess of births over deaths in the next decade may well reach 800,000. Registered births in 1954 totalled 83,317 and deaths 19,283 and at the end of the year the population was probably about 2½ millions.

The Chinese population is predominantly of Cantonese origin, but economic and political changes on the mainland in recent years have brought to the Colony large numbers of people from other parts of China, especially from Shanghai. There are approximately 15,000 non-Chinese permanently resident in the Colony, including about 9,500 British subjects from the United Kingdom and Commonwealth but excluding Services personnel and their dependants. The Portuguese, excluding those of British nationality, number about 850, the Americans, the next largest community, 300, and the Dutch about 80. In all, about 50 different nationalities are represented in the non-Chinese community.

The indigenous population of the New Territories is composed of Cantonese and Hakka, with a sprinkling of Hoklo. the farmers comprise Cantonese, mainly settled, some families for several hundred years, in the comparatively fertile western plains, and Hakka, who are at present found mainly in the more difficult hilly land on the eastern side of the peninsula, and are generally believed to have occupied these areas for less than two hundred years. If it is correct that the Hakka are the later arrivals, then they would appear to have occupied any potentially arable land disregarded by the Cantonese, and to have penetrated in long fingers from the eastern side of the New Territories down into the south-west of the mainland and out on to the islands. The two sections maintain excellent relations, and the old custom barring intermarriages between Cantonese and Hakka is no longer observed. It is now not rare to find Hakka wives in Cantonese families and vice versa, and there are few Hakka youths who cannot speak Cantonese.

Certain occupations are predominantly Cantonese or Hakka; for instance, the oyster fisheries are entirely Cantonese, while the manufacture of bean-curd and the quarrying of stone are, or were, primarily the sphere of the Hakka. Farmers of both sections, when they live on or near the sea, combine fishing with agriculture, though unlike the boat people their homes remain in their villages even though they may spend nights away on the water. Their women seldom go fishing.

As a result of post-war conditions in the interior, Chinese from many provinces of China can now be found in the more accessible parts of the New Territories as vegetable, pig and poultry farmers. They have also contributed their share to the recent development of built-up areas.

In the New Territories, sailing and rowing boats, and the people who live in them, fall into three classes: the genuine Cantonese boat people (The Tanka), the genuine Hoklo boat people and the small passenger and fishing craft used mainly by Hakka farmers. The first two classes live mainly by fishing and use distinctive types of boat. The third class, used largely for ferry work on the eastern (Hakka) side of the peninsula, are stoutly built, with hulls high out of the water along their whole length, and a single mast. The Hoklo are a small but virile minority, sailing and rowing the fastest boats; the men often speak Cantonese and Hakka in addition to their own language, and they live mostly in the eastern New Territories, in Tide Cove, Tolo Harbour, and Starling Inlet.

The biggest fishing port is Cheung Chau, but the only place where the boat people live ashore is at Tai O, where hundreds of huts on piles cover the shores of the creeks.

Industrial expansion into the New Territories, chiefly at Tsun Wan and further along the south-west coast of the mainland, has introduced a new element of Shanghai labourers. Post-war mining activities have attracted a heterogeneous conglomeration of men from many parts of China, including the north-west. New road construction has brought in numbers of hardy Hakka, especially from the Ng Wah district of Kwangtung Province.