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Ng Oi-san - a resourceful seven-year-old girl

I notice that it was on this day, back in 1933, that the reading public in Hong Kong heard about a plucky little girl whose actions resulted in two female and one male kidnapper going to prison for a total of four years. This story didn't make it to Women, Crime and the Courts - Hong Kong 1841-1941, but it has buzzed about in my head since I read it a few years ago. This summer (2020) has been a tough one for children everywhere, I think. There are houses opposite me (in the UK) which have no gardens, but where large families have been cooped up since March, only getting out to go to school since September. The noise that comes from those houses, as four, five or six children 'let off steam' is something else, but I think Ng Oi-san would have willingly swapped with any of them.

Her birth parents had sold her when she was six. In earlier times she would have been referred to a mui tsai - or 'little sister', but with the crackdown on that practice, it appears that her purchaser had formally adopted Oi-san. Now she lived, happily with her new parents in Shaukiwan, in the east of Hong Kong island. One day, early in September 1933, she went out to buy a bun for herself, when she was overtaken by a young woman, who was a lodger in the same house. This woman took hold of Oi-san and persuaded her to take a tram ride with her. But the tram rattled on and on, and soon was in a part of Hong Kong Oi-san had never been to. Then the woman made her run down to the harbour, where an older woman took hold of her and she was pushed onto the Lamma Island ferry. Oi-san realised that this woman was the mother of the younger one - she had seen them together many times.

On Lamma Island, Oi-san was taken to the home of the older woman and her husband, and here the pair put the child to work, making her wash clothes and boil up the pig swill for the animals. The couple changed her name, to Chan Tan, and she was beaten by the man when she didn't work hard enough. The only bright spot in her life was that they gave her lots of tasty fruit, which she enjoyed eating. But Oi-san knew that the situation wasn't right, and wanted to go back to her adoptive parents in Shaukiwan.

Back there, her mother was upset, too, and told her neighbour - the same young neighbour who had kidnapped her daughter - of the child's disappearance. This woman put on a great act of feigning distress, and actually cried with the mother over the girl's loss.

On 29th September, she was supposed to be washing clothes, but managed to slip away unnoticed, and ran to the Police Station. Undaunted by all the stern-looking men, even the great tall British inspector who towered over her, she told her story. Soon Oi-san was restored to her happy parents. The kidnappers, though, realising that the police might be on their trail, slipped back to Hong Kong Island, not to Shaukiwan, but to a house in West Point, almost as far away as they could be from the child's home. However, they didn't manage to evade the detectives, who first found the young woman, who led them to the West Point house.

Little Ng Oi-san had to stand in the witness box at the Magistracy - on a chair, so that the magistrates could see her above the rail -and gave her evidence clearly and honestly. The young woman went to the new Lai Chi Kok Women's Prison for two years, with hard labour while her parents received prison terms of one year each.


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