Starting in the 1950s, thousands of Russian émigrés, who had fled their homeland following the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, found their way to Hong Kong from China. The so-called White Russians, one of the oldest refugee groups in the world, were largely craftsmen, traders and anyone with capitalist inclinations (as opposed to the “Reds” or Bolsheviks). They had sought refuge in China — parts of Manchuria, Shanghai and Harbin — in the early 1900s when communism took over Russia.
But when the Cultural Revolution started in China, they were forced to look for yet another new home in Hong Kong. By 1980, more than 20,000 White Russians had passed through Hong Kong and thousands were waiting to leave China. “To many residents in the colony,” the South China Morning Post wrote in July 1965, “these refugees have become quite a familiar sight as they stroll in the streets dressed in their quaint 19th century Russian peasant costumes. But tourists still stop and stare in wonderment at the billowing trousers and high laced boots of the men and the ankle-skirted kerchiefed women.”
Unlike Snowden though, these Russian refugees “were all billeted here in hotels” and their “expenses were shared by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the World Council of Churches [WCC],” Nina Bieger of the WCC in Hong Kong commented in a 2011 study of the Russian refugees in the territory. Meals, pocket money and other basic expenses were provided if they had long repatriation waiting periods.
PHOTOS: The Bolshevik October Revolution
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