A Cry from Hong-Kong
(The writer of this article is the Parliamentary Secretary of
the Anti-Slavery and Aborigines Protection Society. has contributed to the columns of the Spectator on several occasions. —ED. Spectator.) ruHREE months ago Parliament was given to under- -1- stand that Lord Passfield would issue shortly a statement of policy upon the Mui Tsai system of slavery in Hong-Kong, but nothing is yet known of the intention of the Government upon this matter of such vital im- portance to Britain's reputation.
When, two years ago, a full disclosure was made of the system of slavery in the Protectorate of Sierra Leone, Mr. Amery refused to wait for the ordinary meeting of the Legislative Council, but requested the Governor of Sierra Leone to summon immediately a special meeting of that Council and to telegraph to him in draft legisla- tion for the abolition of slavery and the liberation of the 215,000 slaves. So far as is known to-day not a single slave has in fact been set free in Hong-Kong through • legislative or administrative activity ; and there are 10,000 of these slaves in the Colony, whilst across the frontier in China there are, it is estimated, over 2,000,000 little slaves held in bondage under precisely the same system.
Of course, we are told there is no slavery in Hong-Kong, because British Law says so. Forty years ago Lord Kimberley, disturbed at statements made that slavery was widespread in Hong-Kong, called for reports which were in turn submitted by him to the Law Officers of the Crown, who advised him that slavery could not exist in Hong-Kong because it had been abolished by law ! This failed to satisfy Lord Kimberley, who held that the person who paid money for another person believed that he had bought a slave and that the person who was transferred by this money transaction believed that he or she had in fact been sold as a slave.
Forty years passed away and the misery, degradation and drudgery of these 10,000 Mui Tsai (child slaves) were forgotten ; then a remarkable thing occurred in Hong- Kong. On a Sunday evening in October, 1919, the Cathedral bells summoned the people of Hong-Kong to the evening service. The preacher mounted the pulpit and gave out his text :- "What doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to do justly,
and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God."
The preacher then startled his hearers by declaring that although justice was supposed to dominate human rela- tionships in Hong-Kong, yet slavery continued to flourish at their very doors. The preacher went on to expose the degradation and suffering involved in the buying and selling of human beings, and urged the congregation to investigate conditions. At the conclusion of the service the congregation left the Cathedral. Most of those who had listened to the sermon thought all too little of what they had heard ; yet amongst those who had listened with surprise and indignation .to the moving appeal of the clergyman was the courageous wife of a British Naval Officer, who determined that at all costs she would investigate the condition of slayery alluded to by the preacher. For some months she went in and out of the homes of Hong-Kong, and was horrified to find that what had disturbed Lord Kimberley forty years before, and that which forty-nine years earlier had been declared by the Lord Chief Justice of Hong-Kong to be slavery, was still in existence in all its loathsome forms in Hong-Kong ; and Mrs. Haslewood, the wife of Commander Haslewood, then determined that civilization should be informed of the state of affairs in Hong-Kong.
The concern, which had been generated in -Hong- Kong itself, spread to Great Britatti and was of such volume that it awakened vigorous activity in the British Parliament, and Mr.- Winston Churchill ultimately gave a promise to Members of Parliament that the system should be abolished within one year., That promise was given by Mr. Churchill seven years ago, and everybody belieVed then that it would be carried out. Now comes the information that nothing has been changed and that the very Ordinance that Mr. Winston Churchill des- patched to Hong-Kong has only been applied in certain parts ; moreover, it is asserted that whilst there were only 9,000 Mui Tsai slaves in Hong-Kong when Mr. Churchill made his statement in Parliament, there are now more than 10,000, and the prices paid for these Mui Tsai slaves are higher than ever before.
I have before me as I write a budget of police court proceedings in connexion with Mui Tsai cases. From these I select three of the most recent.
The first concerns the case of a little boy, Fung Yau. This little fellow had " changed hands " for 140 dollars, say £14, and according to the evidence of Detective- sergeant Fitches the sale was " a perfectly lawful trans- action," which had taken place through the Secretariat for Chinese Affairs.
The second case came before the court only last month through an allegation of cruelty. The child concerned was only seven years of age (apparently nobody in Hong- Kong seems to see any objection to employing a child of seven- years !), but she had already been sold several times. According to the evidence, the child was brought from the Sun Wai district and first sold in Hong-Kong at about one year old. The defending counsel claimed that the proper procedure had been adopted in this case because " when the girl was bought by the woman Li Wong Shi " she treated her not as a slave but as an adopted daughter : the visible marks of cruelty inflicted upon the child demonstrated the kind of treatment of which she had been the victim.
The third case I select is one which illustrates the " cycle " of a slave girl. The first stage was that of the original sale of the child at the age of thirteen years. At this time she was sold for domestic work and the price of the sale was only £2. But she attracted the attention of a new purchaser, who offered the owner a £10 increase on the deal, which was accepted and the sale price was then agreed at £12. The third stage commenced immediately, because when this purchaser took the girl home she was forthwith subjected to such treatment that she attempted to escape. At the fourth stage the Secretary for Chinese Affairs stepped in and commenced proceedings for cruelty and had the child sent to the Po Leung Kuk, a semi-official institution to which Mui Tsai are sent tem- porarily. The fifth and final stage was an appeal by the mother for the return of her child, but she was told : " Your daughter has been sold ; there is nothing further we can do for you." • Great Britain has given a splendid lead to the League of Nations upon the question of slavery. Through the efforts of Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland, Lord Irwin, Sir Austen Chamberlain and Lord Cecil, the League has committed itself to the great task of " The abolition of slavery in all its forms."
Here, in a British Colony equipped with a highly efficient administration, is a system of slavery under which at least 10,000 child slaves are held in • bondage, whilst others are daily subjected to the process of barter. They are sold for purposes which lead to both physical suffering and moral degradation, often exposed to torture and cruelty of the most heinous kind.
From the depths of this misery these child voices come ringing over the intervening ocean to us for pity and succour. Who will listen to their cry ?
- JOHN H. IL-eaais,