“Refugee Pioneers in Hong Kong,” Global Histories: Hong Kong (2021)
“Refugee Pioneers in Hong Kong,” Global Histories: Hong Kong
The first Latter-day Saint missionaries who came to Hong Kong in 1853 stayed only six weeks. Hosea Stout, James Lewis, and Chapman Duncan faced negative publicity centered on the Church’s practice of polygamy and difficulties learning Cantonese, the local Chinese dialect.
A second mission effort beginning in 1949 was shut down in 1951 due to military tensions related to the Korean War. In 1955 a third mission finally took hold under the leadership of 26-year-old H. Grant Heaton, who spoke fluent Cantonese and Mandarin, and Luana Carter Heaton, who had already served missions to the Southwest Indian and California Missions.
The vast majority of early converts were refugees from mainland China. Many were individuals of great ability who had held high positions in government, the military, education, or business before fleeing to Hong Kong. In 1958 Church members included three former governors of provinces, seven former army generals, one former director of banking, and five PhDs. About half of the male members of the Church in Hong Kong had had some level of university education.
These early Hong Kong Church members felt kinship with early Latter-day Saint pioneers who had also fled under duress from their homes and even their countries and had been compelled to start life anew. Working with the mission leadership, they established several ambitious ventures. Church members operated two garment-making factories: the Global Garment factory on Shun Ning Street and the Chau Chong factory on Castle Peak Road. Local members received two to three months’ training to prepare them for working in the factory on the sewing machine production lines. Profits from the factory were reinvested to create better working conditions and were also distributed as bonuses for workers. A home industry program created to provide income for members too old to work in factories placed almost $7,000 USD worth of handicrafts such as beaded purses, belts, small toys, and other things for sale in Australia, England, Germany, and the United States.
The mission also provided microloans for small businesses. Ning Ching 甯靜, a former general field commander in the Nationalist Army, was baptized in 1958. He and his wife, Ning Guo Dechun 甯郭德純, used one such loan, for $75 USD, to start a small noodle factory. “It was not a lot of money, but for us in Hong Kong in this time of hardship, it was an extremely large number,” recalled Ning. “Because of this loan, I was able to make noodles and maintain a living.” Ning Ching’s noodle factory operated for many years, enabling Brother and Sister Ning to repay the loan, educate their children, and send their children on missions.
Many of the refugee members in Hong Kong followed this pattern of working hard and gaining education, supporting each other as they developed a stronger economic foothold in Hong Kong society.