Mainland mums who move to Hong Kong as children go to school

In the first of a two-part series, mainland mums tell why they decided to move to Hong Kong while their children go to school in the city

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 October, 2013, 5:17am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 October, 2013, 5:17am

Macy Wang hails from the southern province of Yunnan. Like thousands of mainland mothers in recent years, she gave birth to a daughter in Hong Kong.

However, unlike many mainland parents of Hong Kong children, she thought it would be important for the girl to grow up and be educated in the city, so she left her husband more than 1,000 kilometres away in March and rented an apartment in Kowloon Bay. When it comes time to enrol the girl in class, the mum is determined that no Hong Kong school will dare turn her child away.

"I [will] have to force her to study several musical instruments, and swimming and skating to compete for a popular preschool and an elementary school in the future," Wang says. The daughter is 26 months old and in preschool.

More than 142,200 babies were born in Hong Kong to mainland parents between 2007 and 2011. Many sought to escape the mainland's one-child policy and to secure right of abode in Hong Kong for their children.

The parents once believed that their children would live on the mainland, but as the yuan rose and their affluence increased, more mainland parents are choosing to let their Hong Kong-born child grow up in the city of their birth, taking advantage of its respected education system. And they are determined that nothing will stop them.

School officials have estimated that the number of mainland children enrolled in Hong Kong preschool this year skyrocketed, though exact figures have been difficult to come by. Last month, thousands of mainland parents queued outside local kindergartens, seeking forms to register their Hong Kong-born children.

Local parents fumed that the demand would trigger a shortage of spots for their own children. But the mainland parents are undeterred.

Some 17,000 of the 32,000 Hong Kong-born children living with mainland parents in Shenzhen endure a daily commute up to four hours to study in Hong Kong, the Shenzhen Education Bureau said earlier this month. The bureau expects the student figure to peak at 50,000 in 2018, before tapering off as measures introduced over the last two years restrict the right of mainland parents to give birth in Hong Kong.

Other parents, like Wang, go further still and uproot or split up their families to move to Hong Kong, even though they don't have the right to work in the city. Children can be sent to live with relatives in Hong Kong or, in some cases, lodged with strangers who are paid to mind them.

They seek advice and support from each other through online communities, trying to find any advantage they can. Mainland mothers look for tips on making the transition to Hong Kong - where to live, where to apply, and how to get along. They understand it means quitting jobs, separating from their husbands, learning a new language and caring for children as single mothers. Many of these parents say it's a painful, but necessary, choice and believe that more mainland families will follow their lead.

They are doing this while living isolated lives, all in hopes of giving their children better intellectual and economic futures.

"People here are highly educated and polite. The society is open and free. I prefer to let my daughter grow up in such a society, instead of any urban mainland city," says Li Miluo , who arrived in May hoping to enrol her second child in a Hong Kong school.

Various online communities formed primarily by mainland parents are filled with posts sharing their stories and experiences. Many posts offer tips on schools, and how to rent apartments and settle in Hong Kong.

"Those who have just come back from Hong Kong will hand out tips to those who are interested in following the same path, such as what questions would be asked during a preschool interview, which kindergartens are good and the contrast of flats among Sheung Shui, Kowloon Bay and Tseung Kwan O," says William Zhou, founder of a cyber forum,, which draws more than 43,000 mainland parents who have children born in Hong Kong or overseas.

Zhou said that most parents in his group were affluent professionals or business owners who already had children before coming to Hong Kong to have their second. Besides those from Guangdong, many parents from hinterland provinces are also trying to let their children migrate and settle in Hong Kong.

One difficulty many Putonghua-speaking parents have discovered is the language barrier, since many kindergartens conduct admissions interviews in Cantonese or English.

"I'm trying my best to get into Hong Kong's society and make friends with other Hong Kong parents, so I study Cantonese hard," says Sally Wu, who has been living in To Kwa Wan for a year. She has spent HK$4,000 each month to let her two-year-old daughter study at a private preschool in Kowloon Tong. "I feel extremely lonely here because I can't find a job," she says.

Some mainland families have older children who already live in Hong Kong.

One eight-year-old girl born in the mainland has been living in the city for almost three years. To secure a Hong Kong identity card for her, the parents - who run a fishing business in Guangzhou - placed the girl, their second daughter, with a retired couple living in Tin Shui Wai. The parents pay the couple HK$5,300 each month, and pay extra for after-school tutoring and classes in piano and skating.

The girl's parents say they feel satisfied with their decision to send the girl to live in Hong Kong, although the family reunites just once a month.

"My husband and I are not well-educated and busy at making a living. We think she would have a better life with the Hong Kong family than living with us," says the girl's mother, He Ling , who asked that her daughter's name not be divulged.

"Every friend of my family praises and applauds when they see her, saying her English is good, her temperament is good and elegant."

Recently the girl told her parents that she could only return to Guangzhou and visit once a month because she needs time for after-school tutoring.

"Sometimes, it's really sad that we have to separate from her," the mother says, "because we want to love her more."

Tomorrow: frustration boils over for parents