There has been much heated discussions about fears for refugees in all parts of the world. The United States and Britain comes to mind. Much rhetoric has been devoted to nationalistic sentiments against refugees who are ruining everything. This rhetoric is not limited to overseas. In Hong Kong, there has been much discussion in recent years about “fake refugees” who are really here in Hong Kong to exploit the system. Before I go further, I want to share my story – that I am an offspring of refugees.
My grandfather fled Hong Kong during the Japanese invasion
In 1928, my paternal grandfather was born in Dongguan, Guangdong Province, to a merchant based in Hong Kong. Though my grandfather grew up in Dongguan, he went to school in Hong Kong, where my great-grandfather was. In December 1941, Japan invaded Hong Kong. My grandfather, then a young boy, walked all forty-seven sea miles by foot back to his ancestral home to escape from the violence, all by himself. He was a refugee who fled Hong Kong. It was not long until he was put into a labour camp ran by the Imperial Japanese Army.
My great-grandmother almost got killed by a Japanese soldier
His mother, my great-grandmother, almost got killed by a Japanese soldier with a bayonet at her throat, for no reason other than simply fetching for water for her family. On her way to the well, she was intercepted by a Japanese soldier. He had been patrolling the Japanese occupied areas. Without hesitation, he had the bayonet at her throat. It was the end of her, she thought. Suddenly, a young unfamiliar boy ran up to the Japanese soldier and grabbed his leg. “Please let go of my mother,” he begged and begged. The soldier let her go. She never saw the child again.
My grandmother’s family fled to Hong Kong during the Civil War
My paternal grandmother’s elder brother was a member of the Kuomintang, or the Chinese Nationalist Party, and had held an official position in the Guangzhou Nationalist Government before 1949. In October of 1949, the Red Army fought their way to Guangzhou. Guangzhou was no longer defensible. My great-uncle fled from Guangzhou to Hong Kong, joining my grandmother who was already in Hong Kong having married my grandfather here.
Left behind in the Civil War
Still left behind in Guangzhou, my grandmother’s younger brother, my younger great-uncle, stayed in Guangzhou. One day, an unfamiliar man approached the boy and asked if he had an elder brother whose surname was “Xu” (“Chui,” in Cantonese). An uncle who overheard the conversation soon realized what was happening. This man, asking my great-uncle such questions about his family, was most likely an agent looking for the whereabouts of Kuomintang officials in hiding.
My great-uncle’s great escape to Hong Kong
“No. The boy has no brother!” the uncle rushed to interrupt the man and the boy. “His surname is not ‘Xu’… His surname is ‘Xie’!” Xie (“Tse,” in Cantonese) was the surname of the boy’s mother, my great-grandmother. From that moment on, the boy adopted his mother’s surname as his own. He soon left for Hong Kong, where his siblings found refuge from the Chinese Civil War. This was why my great-uncle had adopted a different surname from my grandma.
I am a HongKonger and I am the grandson of refugees. Unless one is an indigenous Hong Kong villager, it’s hard to argue that he originated from this land. We all come from somewhere else. Even indigenous clans can trace their ancestry back to their ancestral villages in China. Hong Kong is a place where people from different places come together to build something new. Descendants of refugees are who we are.