By Vaudine England
Just two serious articles were published on the subject of Eurasians in Hong Kong in the 20th century. A bold claim – and one on which I’d be delighted to be proven wrong!
The first came in 1920, from the Hon. Sir Challoner Grenville Alabaster, OBE, Member of the Legislative Council. This China-born former British Consul in China was the interpreter who accompanied Ye Mingchen throughout most of his imprisonment and exile by the British. A lawyer, he moved to Hong Kong where he was Acting Attorney General no less than four times before achieving the full post in 1931 until 1946. He was also acting Chief Justice in 1937. ‘In 1942 he was one of the three senior government officials who instructed Robert Kotewall to cooperate with the Japanese occupying forces in order to protect Hong Kong residents.’ A survivor of the Stanley Internment Camp during World War Two (perhaps thanks to the sunglasses he wore perpetually), ‘his meticulous and allegedly rather bureaucratic personality [meant] he was not universally admired.’ (Source: DHKB pp1-2.)
Alabaster’s ‘Some Observations on Race Mixture in Hong Kong’, warning of the onset of a race problem in the wake of China’s republican revolution, has long outlived the sunglasses. Published in the (albeit now defunct) Eugenics Review, he expressed surprise at the lack of any laws ‘bearing upon the problem of race mixture, certain laws declaring marriage between certain races invalid or a punishable offence, or at least certain decisions as to the degree of blood making a particular person a member of one race or of another.’ There were laws granting privileges to or discriminating against Chinese, regarding will validation, and registration of persons, and even laws requiring the Registrar of Companies to decide what might properly be described as a Chinese or non-Chinese business partnership. But nothing about Eurasians.
‘If a reason is sought for the absence of any such legislation, it will probably be found in the fact that until as recently as 1911 the Eurasian problem did not exist; or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that before that year classification could be effected easily without too close an inquiry into a person’s pedigree.’
What he meant became clearer as he described Eurasians of Hong Kong before 1911 as falling into roughly three groups – Portuguese, Chinese or British. After 1911, he believed, rising Chinese nationalism and the greater education of more Chinese in Hong Kong would change definitions radically, faster.