Newsletter #16 (Fall 1997)

Hong Kong

With all that has been written about Hong Kong this past summer, leading up to China's reclamation of the territory from Britain on July 1, we thought it timely to look back at Sanger's visits there and share her brief description of the area during her first visit in 1922.

Sanger arrived in Hong Kong in early May of 1922, winding up a two-and-a-half month tour of Japan and China. She, her second husband-to-be J. Noah Slee, and her youngest son Grant, stayed for five days before boarding a ship bound for Egypt. The following is taken from her 1922 diary of the trip:

"Arrived in Hong Kong 7th. The harbor is a wonderful sight. Thousands of sampans & launches on the water front. While Hong Kong seems to be built upon a mountain side. The sampans are filled with Chinese, women rowing & children helping also. They eat, sleep & live there for a life time.

Are born & die in these boats. [. . .]

The first sight that shocks your senses is the women coolies, carrying coal to the steamers. They carry two baskets on a pole across their shoulders and bare feet, hundreds of them do this hard work. Old & young. Their faces are strained, their bodies thin & emaciated. They do not sing as do the carrying men coolies up north.

They work hard.

Carry bricks to the brick layer, break stone instead of a stone crusher, work bare foot in the rice fields, in fact do any job a man can do. I never saw women do this work before.

Hong Kong is a British possession & yet the Chinese speak less English here than they do in either Peking or Shanghai.

We drove out to Republic Bay Hotel, a delightful drive along the bay. A Hotel like the best in Switzerland.

Lunch & drive around the bay & back to our hotel.

Large rooms with baths but dismal atmosphere like the foreign hotels all are in the Far East.

The morning Post gave a good write up of my visit & an editorial on b.c. [. . .]

Sail on the SS. Plassy May 10 for Port Said" (World Trip Journal, MSM S70:156-158).

Sanger returned to Hong Kong in February of 1936 following a world tour that took her through India, Ceylon, Burma. Malaya and the Chinese mainland. During a brief stay made shorter by illness, Sanger met with leaders of the Hong Kong birth control movement and gave several notable addresses. "The richest man in HK gave a wonderful luncheon Chinese for me & twenty eight people were there. . ." Sanger wrote to husband J. Noah Slee. "Twenty courses were served & such delicious food we never had when we were here before." Five days later she writes "Well dearest here I am in the Memorial Hospital trying to get over one of those very painful attacks. . . I was visiting a nice English Professor & his wife & in the night this came upon me like a vice of pain . . . All I could do was be in agony all night until my heart began to go back on me & then they rushed me to the hospital to die!" (MS to Slee, February 22 and 27, 1936, MSM S11:83-85). Sanger recuperated from a severe and recurrent gallbladder affliction (she had it removed the following year) in the hospital and at a friends house before returning home in early March. Even though her illness considerably reduced her schedule in Hong Kong, two birth control clinics were established in the wake of her visit.

In 1959 Sanger, now eighty and ailing, passed through Hong Kong two more times. In February she spent three days attending receptions in her honor on her way back from the Sixth International Conference on Planned Parenthood in New Delhi. Later that year she escorted her two granddaughters and their friends to Asia on a rare pleasure trip. They spent several days in Hong Kong, where Sanger reported that American GI's entertained her teenage granddaughters, before heading on to Japan, Sanger's home away from home.