Jackie Pullinger

Freedom from pressure to do wrong – teenagers in Hong Kong

Other themes: personal responsibility, drugs

The Problem

James has a real problem in this story. Listen and tell me what you’d advise him to do.

“So you know the rule,” said the Dragon King. “Two Mars bars and you’re in.”

“And it’s cold out here,” said Tiger’s Fang. “So hurry up.”

James looked at the entrance to the supermarket. Just steal two Mars bars, and he’d be a member of the Dragon gang, for ever.

He’d been really surprised when they’d asked him to join the gang. He didn’t have many friends as he was new to the school. So he’d said yes. Why not? He hadn’t realised then they were into vandalising and nicking things. Anyway, he was glad he hadn’t told his mum – she’d have made enquiries and found out they weren’t the best of company. But they were company, and that’s what he needed. People to go round with, do things with. He got lonely just being with Mum and his little brother.

To be accepted, he had to pass two tests. First he must drink Dragon’s Blood, a revolting mixture of whisky, coke and tomato juice that the Dragon King, otherwise known as Nick Jones, had brought in a flask from home. And that was when the doubts began. He didn’t want to drink it, it was stupid. But what choice did he have? If he backed out now, they’d make his life miserable at school, everyone would call him names. It would be unbearable. So he drank it. Now he stood outside the supermarket; it was the final test. But he couldn’t move. His feet seemed to be stuck to the pavement. And it wasn’t only nerves. He just didn’t want to do it.

“Go on then,” said Tiger’s Fang.

If only I’d said no to start with, thought James.

Now think:

What should James do? Is it really too late to say no? Or should he just go ahead and get it over with?

(You could discuss this or pass on to the main story.)

The Story

What if all your friends, everyone you knew, belonged to a particular gang? It would be even harder to say no then. What I’m going to tell you know is a true story.

Let me take you back about thirty years and to the other side of the world, to Hong Kong. We’re going to a city within a city, for deep inside Hong Kong at that time was an area called the Walled City. Once it was a real walled city like a fort, with watchtowers and gateways. These have all gone. In fact you could walk up and down the busy streets which surround it and never find the way in. The Walled City doesn’t welcome visitors.

The entrance is, in fact, a narrow slit between two tall buildings, and is guarded by a man sitting in a crate. If he lets you through, you will need to stop while your eyes adjust to the darkness. For the alley is like a tunnel, pierced only here and there by blades of light from the sky above. The sun is the least welcome visitor of all.

Now you can just make out the filthy, ramshackle buildings on either side. So move ahead. Careful! The alley is an open sewer. There are only two toilets for the thirty thousand people who live here, so most people…don’t bother queuing. Just hope that no one decides to empty his bucket as you pass beneath his window. And don’t step on the rotting food. Or the dead rats.

You can hear the clack and clatter of machines behind the closed doors – there are many one-room factories here where young children work long hours. But then you turn a corner, and there’s an unearthly silence. Suddenly you see a face at a window. Someone is peering out at you. Dare you go further…?

So what kind of person lives in the Walled City? Some are ordinary people who have known no other home or life, but some are people on the run – refugees escaping from China, criminals escaping from the police, drug addicts trying to escape from their hard lives.

The Walled City is controlled by Triads, originally Chinese secret societies, now just criminal gangs. The two man gangs are the Ging Yu and the 14K. Children are recruited at an early age. The gang offers them a feeling of belonging and a feeling of safety. In return they must take part in all kinds of wrong activities, especially helping in the drug dens. They could well become drug addicts themselves.

In 1966 an English girl called Jackie Pullinger arrived in Hong Kong. She came because she believed that was where God wanted her. She got a job teaching music at a girls’ college but felt drawn more and more to the Walled City. She remembered that Jesus had said to his followers, “You are the light of the world.” The Chinese call the Walled City “Hak Nam” which means darkness. A good place then to be light.

She decided to open a youth club, to give the young people somewhere to go which was not run by gangsters and where there were no drugs on offer. It was just a bare room with benches and some games equipment, but they thought it was great. By now Jackie had given up the teaching job. She wanted to give herself full time to the people of the Walled City. She wanted to show them how much Jesus cared.

Let me tell you about two of the boys who came to the club.

Christopher lived with his family in one room above a chicken shed. They had two small bunk beds for eight people.

Christopher was about to join the 14K gang. It was expected. But part of him didn’t want to join. He didn’t want to be pushed into doing wrong things all his life. But what choice was there?

Jackie told him he did have a choice. Jesus was there to help people like him. Jesus could give him everything a gang could offer – and more. Christopher jumped at the chance. He became a Christian. He told the 14K leaders he didn’t want to join the gang.

It was the first time they’d heard anything like that. And Jesus did give him more than the gang could – friends who would be good for him and who really cared.

Ah Ping, on the other hand, had joined the Triads at age 12. Now, at age 16, he was a hardened criminal. He’d done terrible things. But deep down he hated what he had become. When Jackie told him, even after all he’d done, Jesus still loved him and was ready to forgive him, he couldn’t understand it, but he knew it was his only chance to change. He grabbed it.

Soon after this he was mugged and beaten up. But he decided not to take revenge – he knew being a Christian meant living a different way.

Several years ago the Walled City was pulled down, and the area is now a park. But Jackie’s work goes on. She has set up houses all over Hong Kong where homeless people, some of whom are refugees, can be cared for, and where those who’ve come off drugs can be healed and grow up in enough aspects of their life to relate back to society.

And now Jackie has been awarded the MBE for her work, for her willingness to let her light shine in a very dark place, for telling the people of the Walled City they do have a chance.

Time of Reflection

Think now: have you ever been tempted to do something wrong because it’s expected or because people around would look down on you if you didn’t go along with them? You don’t have to say yes, you know. Like Christopher and Ah Ping, you do have a choice. But you need to be strong on the inside to say no. Are you able to do that? God can help you if you ask. Just a moment of silence while we think about this.

Bible Bits

Listen to what the Bible says:

“For God has said, ‘I will never leave you; I will never abandon you.’ Let us be bold, then, and say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5,6)

Jesus said, “Whoever follows me will have the light of life and will never walk in darkness.” (John 8:12)


Lord Jesus, thank you that Jackie was there when Christopher and Ah Ping needed help, and thank you that you were there to make them strong on the inside. Sometimes we too can get into difficult situations where it’s hard to say no, but thank you that, if we ask, you can make us strong like them, to spread light rather than darkness. Amen.

Variations on a Theme

The early part of the main story – the walk through the Walled City – could be mimed by a group of children. Jackie Pullinger’s book, Chasing the Dragon (Hodder and Stoughton, 1980), gives more information about the area. The description here is based on my own visit.

Or groups of children could perform their own plays on the same theme as THE PROBLEM, perhaps stopping at the point of decision – to go with the crowd or to say no.

Quiz Questions

  1. The Walled City was part of which large city?
  2. What was Jackie’s first job in Hong Kong.
  3. Hak Nam means – ?
  4. Jesus said, “You are the – “?
  5. Christopher lived above a – ?
  6. When he refused to join the 14K gang, why were the leaders so surprised?
  7. How old was Ah Ping when he joined the Triads?
  8. How old was he when he became a Christian?
  9. Why did Ah Ping not want to take revenge after he was mugged?
  10. Which honour was Jackie awarded?
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