New Year's couplets posted on the gate outside a large home in Wusha village. (Nancy/HKU, March 2011)
The escape was plotted one evening in 1979 by three men of the Chen clan from Wusha, a small seaside village in Chang'an town, Dongguan, adjacent to Hong Kong.
Chen Runcheng, a tractor driver, for the first time in his life parted with his loved ones and his farmland. Swimming to realize either his dreams or his death, Cheng's mind was twisted by fear and exhaustion, courage and hope. He followed his fellow villager, who had attempted the trip five times, in the dim morning light to the Hong Kong border. At the point where their leader was caught by the border police – again, for the sixth time now-- while the two freshmen made it past the patrol, Cheng paused to realize that man could not fight against fate, and went on. From then on, the three lives began to run on different tracks divided by the border.
26 November, 1979 was the deadline for a relaxed Hong Kong border. Catching hold of the last chance, thousands of mainland Chinese, many self-trained swimmers, risked their lives to cross the Shenzhen River in the year. In the year of 1978 alone, 18,000 mainlanders made it to the promised land of fortune, free markets and happiness-- Hong Kong.
With a worker earning as much as 100 times a Chinese farmer, Hong Kong was a British colony of high industrialization, while Wusha was a backward frontier village only 47 nautical miles away from the border. Driven by poverty and starvation, thousands of Wusha clansmen joined the waves of migration in the 1960s and 1970s which later developed a strong connection with Hong Kong. Now there are 740 thousand Hong Kong people originated from Dongguan.
Lying in the central-southern part of Guangdong Province and east of the Pearl River Delta, Dongguan adjoins Guangdong capital city Guangzhou to the north, Shenzhen to the south and the Pearl River to the west. The city covers an area of 2,465 sq km with a population about 10 million. At present, Dongguan is divided into 32 administrative towns/districts within its 2,465 square kilometers of land. Wusha, one of 13 villages in Chang'an town, comprises of 4 clans of Cai, Chen, Li, Jiangbei with a local population over 3500 (plus 80,000 migrant workers) in its land area of 10 square kilometers.