What’s the deal with Hei Ling Chau? Why’s it so hard to get a ferry there?

HK Magazine - - HOME - – Hei Hei

Be­cause it’s full of prisoners, ad­dicts, and other prob­lems that so­ci­ety would pre­fer to sweep un­der the car­pet.

Hei Ling Chau is a small is­land close to Lan­tau, just to the east of Mui Wo: It’s the is­land on the left as you get the ferry to Sil­ver­mine Bay. On the south­ern side of the is­land is a ty­phoon shel­ter. But the is­land it­self has a most cu­ri­ous his­tory.

Orig­i­nally called Nai Gu Chau (“Nun’s is­land”), it was first set­tled in the 1890s by the Lam, Tsang and Ng clans, hit­ting a pop­u­la­tion of about 100 peo­ple by 1950. But af­ter World War II and mass im­mi­gra­tion fol­low­ing the Chi­nese Civil War, poor hy­giene and ram­pant poverty led to wide­spread lep­rosy in Hong Kong. Back then lep­rosy was a feared and in­cur­able dis­ease, and suf­fer­ers were forcibly re­moved from their fam­i­lies to pre­vent fur­ther in­fec­tion. In 1950, the gov­ern­ment set up a leper colony—or “lep­rosar­ium”—to pro­vide care and treat­ment.

They chose Nai Gu Chau, pay­ing the res­i­dents to move away and re­nam­ing it Hei Ling Chau—” Is­land of Happy Heal­ing,” or “Is­land of the Joy­ful Soul.” At its height in the 60s, Hei Ling Chau was home to 540 lepers, an iso­lated is­land in the mid­dle of an ex­plod­ing city.

Lep­rosy cases be­gan to tail off in the 70s and the colony was fi­nally closed in 1974, with the re­main­ing 50 cases de­camped to Lai Choi Kok Hos­pi­tal. The Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices Depart­ment took over and the is­land was used to de­tain Viet­namese refugees in the 1980s. Even to this day,

Hei Ling Chau houses those who are there against their will: It pos­sesses a medium-se­cu­rity prison and three gov­ern­men­trun drug re­hab cen­ters, the largest of which is the Hei Ling Chau Ad­dic­tion Treat­ment Cen­tre. Af­ter all, if you’re go­ing to re­hab, it’s prob­a­bly a good idea to put you in a lo­ca­tion where your near­est score would in­volve a swim.

A 2004 plan to build a su­per jail on the is­land was shelved thanks to pub­lic out­cry, but Hei Ling Chau none­the­less re­mains an is­land of the in­car­cer­ated and the ad­dicted. At lat­est count it held 870 souls in all. 870 peo­ple on the Is­land of Happy Heal­ing, hop­ing for just that.

Hei Ling Chau lep­rosar­ium, back in the day

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