Home Is What Mother Makes: The Impact of Housing in Hong Kong on Chinese Migrant Mothers, 1940s-1980s

Miss Shuang Wu1

1King’s College, London, London , United Kingdom, 2The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR

During the 1950s, Hong Kong’s population went from 600,000 to around 2.5 million. Between the late 1940s and 1970s, it was estimated that 40% of the colony’s population growth was the result of migration from the PRC, leading to a drastic increase in the number of squatter settlements. After the Shek Kip Mei fire (1953), the government decided to implement a systematic resettlement strategy. One group of migrants profoundly affected by these changes were mothers. Chinese societies remained distinctly gendered, with women presiding over the domestic space. Improvised settlements left mothers battling practical challenges. In order to integrate, mothers were required to forge new networks among their neighbours. Information on contraceptives, postpartum care and parity in planning household finances was often only available through these sources. Community estates brought wives and mothers together – in the form of business and/or friendship – and helped form individual identities within a community. This paper examines the role of migrant Chinese mothers in Hong Kong – a marginalised, frequently illiterate group – often absent from official documentation. As such, this research also reflected on the values of oral history in uncovering marginalised histories of migration, ethnicity, community and family.


Shuang Wu is currently pursuing a Joint PhD in History at King’s College, London and The University of Hong Kong. Her research interests centre around migration, gender, and oral history. Her current research focuses on Chinese motherhood in colonial Hong Kong and the United Kingdom in the postwar period.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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