Wednesday, November 01, 2006

From the Po Leung Kuk Archives

The Po Leung Kuk were a benevolent society set up by Chinese businessmen of the Colony in Hong Kong in 1878 to protect women from being kidnapped against their will and trafficked as prostitutes. However, those same businessmen did so with the intention of protecting the existing practice of the buying and selling of children as mui tsai servants from parents, or the taking up of poor young girls as concubines. Furthermore, the members of the Po Leung Kuk society were also not averse to taking additional concubines themselves, a few of them apprently even from the pool of women they were supposed to protect, so there were some gray areas in which this altruistic society operated.

Nevertheless, the society did do a lot of good work and prevented the kidnapping or immoral use of thousands of girls. The problem that some members of the colonial establishment had with it was that it had detectives that were authorized, independently of policemen, to search ships and enter boarding houses near the shore to interview women and girls that were being shipped off to far ports of call. It took some work though, to ascertain whether women were going off to work as prostitutes of their own will, or whether they were being forced. All of this made the port of Hong Kong a rather confusing place, and women interviewed would sometimes answer their querents in a way that reflected this confusion. Allow me to provide an example:
Case No. 2.

A girl named Ng Yuk, who appeared at the Emigration Office, and stated she was going to Singapore to be a prostitute, was detained, as on being questioned she was unable to give satisfactory answers, and sent by order of the Registrat General to the Po Leung Kuk, with a request that the Committee would inquire into her case. The Committee did so and ascertained that the woman was not going to be a prostitute, that she had said she was, because she thought she would be passed more easily by the Emigration Officer, that she was a married woman, that her husband wished to take her to Singapore, and that the statements made by husband and wife agreed. A copy of the girl's statement was taken down and forwarded to the Registrar General, who handed the woman over to her husband.
Here is another, with an interesting twist:
Case No. 6.

In the year 1890, 17th November, a girl named Ho Kam Yuk, aged 15, was found on board a steamer going to Sandakan, and brought before the Acting Registrar General to whom she stated that she did not wish to go to Sandakan. The girl was handed over under security to a woman Leung Yau and had to come to the Registrar General's Office every quarter. A few days ago a man came to this office and said he wished to marry Ho Kam Yuk and take her to Singapore. The man was not known to this office, so the Po Leung Kuk was requested to make inquiries, which was done, and a report received saying that there was no doubt regarding the bona fides of the man in question. The Registrar General accordingly approved of the marriage and the bond usual in such cases was duly signed, sealed and delivered.

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