Born in New Territories, Hong Kong, 1879, how would you spend your life?

stevev

Ad Honorem
Apr 2017
3,734
Las Vegas, NV USA
I thought about my character going to Britain but it made more sense to me to go to Hong Kong Island. It had been a British colony since 1842 and was an increasingly important port for more than just opium. ASFAIK Britain did not have an exclusion act but I doubt a single poor young Chinese male who spoke little or no English would be welcome assuming he could even get there.

Since I have some skills I could probably find work in HK with good prospects in a port that was a growing trading venue. I think the OP had a specific success story in mind.
 
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VHS

Ad Honorem
Dec 2015
4,861
Florania
I don't know, but if you were going as a sailor you wouldn't have to worry about immigration laws, as long as you didn't try to jump ship. Chinese were used as a source of cheap labour by British and American ships around the early 20th century, so if you came from a fishing background or just found a ship that'd take you on without much experience, you could find your way over to the Atlantic.

Personally, if I was a Chinese back then and wanted to go to the US, I'd much rather go to the east coast than the west coast. The "yellow peril" racism was a bit less violent in New York than San Francisco, probably due to the fact that there were less Chinese "stealing jobs" in the former than the latter. There was also a more established Chinese community in the US than in most of Europe (wikipedia says around 7,000 in Manhattan in 1900), so I'd probably pick the US over Britain or France because there'd be more of my fellow countrymen living there to mingle with and maybe offer me a job.
We seem to assume the fishing background of a Tanka person; have any people consider the other, the farming communities or even the "scholarly class"?
Staying there for a fishing and farming life might sound idyllic while a dead-end; are we looking for better alternatives?
Have any people with serious fishing and farming experience beside gardening and recreational fishing or hunting?
 
May 2019
366
Earth
We seem to assume the fishing background of a Tanka person; have any people consider the other, the farming communities or even the "scholarly class"?
Dunno. I was just trying to give examples of what someone could have done with their life back then. I mentioned the whole "emigration to New York" thing because Sai Wing Mock was born in 1879, and I mentioned the sailor thing because that's how Ho Chi Minh got to the US east coast. I don't know how Sai Wing Mock did it.

Staying there for a fishing and farming life might sound idyllic while a dead-end; are we looking for better alternatives?
I don't know how idyllic that would be. South China was full of poverty, disease, and political unrest back then. It's no coincidence that the majority of Chinese immigrating to the US back then were from the Cantonese region...

Have any people with serious fishing and farming experience beside gardening and recreational fishing or hunting?
Well, my own family is from a bit of a maritime background (I've got sailor ancestors back at least as far as the 1820s), so if we're assuming that our Chinese in 1879 had a similar background to ourselves, then the fishmerman-turned-sailor thing would fit me.

Assuming I wasn't from a maritime background, I could always still try the "paper son" route into the US, or else look at somewhere like Canada (as Futurist said). Personally, if I was born to a working class family in southern China in 1879, I'd want to get the heck out of southern China...
 

stevev

Ad Honorem
Apr 2017
3,734
Las Vegas, NV USA
My assumption was that that a young (19) man could succeed by going to HK in 1898. I knew the native Chinese would not have the same status as British nationals . British and other Europeans lived in Victoria while Chinese lived in Kowloon. British law seems to provide for a level of equality that did not really exist until about 1960.

"English common law has the rationale of natural-born citizenship, following the principle of jus soli, in the theory that people born within the dominion of The Crown, which included self-governing dominions and Crown colonies, would have a "natural allegiance" to the Crown as a "debt of gratitude" to the Crown for protecting them through infancy. As the dominion of the British Empire expanded, British subjects included not only persons within the United Kingdom but also those throughout the rest of the British Empire.
By this definition, anyone born in Hong Kong after it became a British colony in 1842 was a British subject. The Naturalisation of Aliens Act, 1847 expanded what had been covered in the Naturalisation Act, 1844, which applied only to people within the United Kingdom, to all its dominions and colonies. The Act made provisions for naturalisation as well as allowing for acquisition of British subject status by marriage between a foreign woman and a man with British subject status."

Wikipedia

To the extent that this describes some semblance of of reality it seems a natural choice to go to Hong Kong when the New Territories came under British law as part of the Crown Colony. Why would people choose to go great distances to places where they had no legal expectation of acceptance?
 
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May 2019
366
Earth
Why would people choose to great distances to places where they had no legal expectation of acceptance?
To avoid dying of plague or getting killed in a typhoon?

"The Third Pandemic of bubonic plague broke out in China in the 1880s. By the spring of 1894 about 100,000 were reported dead in the mainland. In May 1894 the disease erupted into Hong Kong's overcrowded Chinese quarter of Tai Ping Shan. By the end of the month, an estimated 450 people died of the illness. At its height, the epidemic was killing 100 people per day, and it killed a total of 2,552 people that year. The disease was greatly detrimental to trade and produced a temporary exodus of 100,000 Chinese from the colony. Plague continued to be a problem in the territory for the next 30 years. In the 1870s a typhoon hit Hong Kong one evening reaching its height by midnight. An estimated 2,000 people lost their lives in a span of just six hours."

Or to chase dreams of a "Gold Mountain" where you could make a fortune and then bring it back to China and retire a rich man...

 
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May 2019
366
Earth
Thank you. I was unaware this affected HK so severely. However I wonder how many got rich in the California gold rush.
I think you had a better chance of making a living by supplying the miners than by chasing gold yourself. There was a fellow called Wah Lee who became fairly successful running one of the first Chinese laundries in America, cleaning clothes for the gold seekers in the California Gold Rush.

Anyway, the California Gold Rush would be over by the time of our 1879-born Chinese guy, altough the Klondike Gold Rush was in full swing when he would have been a young adult, and that was in Canada, so no 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act to deal with: Klondike Gold Rush - Wikipedia

Here's an example of one Chinese fellow who became moderately successful in Alaska: China Joe - Wikipedia

EDIT: Fixed a typo where I said the CGR was "after", when I meant to say "over".

Also, regarding the HK plague outbreak, it's worth noting that San Francisco Chinatown also suffered a plague outbreak during the early 20th century, so that probably wouldn't have been the best bet if you were an immigrant (coupled with the "yellow peril" racism I mentioned earlier): San Francisco plague of 1900–1904 - Wikipedia
 
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Oct 2015
237
Singapore
Note that New Territories was still under Qing Dynasty in 1879.
As far as family background was concerned, there were only farmers or fishers.
They were mostly Tanka, Hakka, or other indigenous inhabitants of New Territories.
Historically, some of these people became officials, even though it was quite rare.
Let's assume you are a male of normal intellectual and physical functioning (in such circumstance,
even if you are as gifted as Esther Okade, it hardly mattered) born in 1879, New Territories, Hong Kong,
how would you spend your life?
Or, let's assume you are gifted in an area or two, how would you spend your life in this rather destitute time
and environment?
Forget all these "historical knowledge" cliches; it makes interesting stories while being mostly unrealistic.
Become a coolie and migrate to Singapore for a better life, maybe someday my great-grandchildren will be posting on a website like Historum. :lol:
 

stevev

Ad Honorem
Apr 2017
3,734
Las Vegas, NV USA
As an aside, Hong Kong was the first Crown Colony. It wasn't much; just a thinly populated group of islands. However Prince Albert found out about it first and wanted to surprise the Queen with her very own island. Just 23 and probably pregnant, she was perplexed at first and rattled off the places over which she was queen already. Albert had to tell her that while she was queen in those places, they were not Crown Colonies. Still perplexed she asked why not. Albert didn't have an answer for that since the empire wasn't really official. It consisted of a number places outside the UK over which the queen reigned through various ad hoc connections between their parliaments and the UK parliament. The idea of formal dominions and colonies did not exist until the Treaty of Nanking. The Queen was silent for a moment and then said "So I have got the island of Hong Kong."