HKHP Interviews: Mark Hampton, Lingnan University

Our second interviewee is Prof. Mark Hampton, of the history department at Lingnan University. A resident of Hong Kong for almost eleven years, Prof. Hampton has published widely on British media and culture, including the recent book Hong Kong and British Culture, 1945-97.


HKHP: How did this all begin? (Your research interests, your career, or your life in Hong Kong, etc.)

MH: For about twenty years now, I have been a historian of British culture, and Hong Kong is just one of my areas of interest within this broader field. The two main reasons that I took my interest in British cultural history in the direction of the British in Hong Kong are, 1. in 1996 while conducting research in Manchester, I met a young woman from Hong Kong who piqued my interest in Hong Kong (“Reader, I married her”), and 2. I was fortunate enough to be able to move to Hong Kong in 2007 to take a position at Lingnan University, after spending the first several years of my career in the United States. Upon moving to Hong Kong, I quite naturally took advantage of the opportunity to move my interest in British cultural history into the arena of Hong Kong studies.

HKHP: What needs to be further explored in Hong Kong studies?

MH: I’m not sure I’m the best person to ask, given that I approach Hong Kong studies from a firmly British cultural perspective, which is obviously limiting. But my sense is that there is still a lot more to learn about Hong Kong from the vantage point of its inhabitants who are neither Chinese nor Western: in other words, its Asian ethnic minorities. People like John Erni and Gordon Matthews have done important pioneering work, but I think there is much more to be done in this area.

HKHP: How do you see Hong Kong’s place in the study of history?

Hong Kong is interesting as a city that is simultaneously an entry point into studies of globalization, of Chinese history, of British imperial history, of Hong Kong’s role as an exemplar of neo-liberalism and a place for what Davidson and Rees-Mogg call “the sovereign individual” to assert his or her sovereignty. Some of the infrastructure projects of the second half of the twentieth century offer interesting case studies in urban planning that would be of interest to any urban geographer. Hong Kong is a liminal place—in the 19th century what John Carroll evocatively calls the “edge of empires”, and in the later 20th century, a contact zone between China and the world. Basically, for 19th- to 20th- century historical studies, there are few cities that offer entry points into as many different fields of historical enquiry as Hong Kong does.

HKHP: What do you think would be the biggest challenge facing Hong Kong studies? How can we solve it?

MH: To me, the biggest challenge is that as Hong Kong studies develops, and more scholars—especially, but not only, those based in Hong Kong — devote their professional careers to Hong Kong studies, it can tend to become myopic. I think my answer to the previous question points us to the best antidote: the more different perspectives are brought to bear on Hong Kong, the better off “Hong Kong studies” will be. I think it would be a good thing if we have scholarship on Hong Kong being conducted not only by people who devote their careers to scholarship on Hong Kong, but by people interested in Chinese history, British history, global history, financial history, international cinema, and any number of other topics that go well beyond “Hong Kong studies”.

HKHP:  Could you please share with us your favorite quote/person/book that you came across while doing primary research?

MH: I’m afraid my favorites are not from my studies in the history of Hong Kong, but things I encountered in British journalism and cultural history: from the great Guardian editor, C.P. Scott: “Comment is free, but facts are sacred”. In terms of books, I’m a big fan of Walter Lippmann’s Public Opinion (1922) and, before that, R.A. Scott-James’s The Influence of the Press (1913). Between them, I think they were instrumental in establishing Anglo-American media studies. Keeping it strictly to Hong Kong: as I worked on post-1945 British culture and Hong Kong, I found Richard Hughes’s Borrowed Place, Borrowed Time (1968) and James Clavell’s Noble House (1981) to be among the most interesting—and especially interesting that Clavell—an Australian who became a US citizen—was as concerned about promoting British culture as anyone who ever wrote about Hong Kong. Hughes, of course, was also Australian.

HKHP: What are you working on now?

MH: I am working on several projects: one on British radicals and reformers in Hong Kong from the 1840s to 1990s; one on the film theory of Michael Balcon, a major film producer in mid-twentieth-century Britain; and one on discourses of “whiteness” in post-1945 Britain and the United States. In addition, I am general editor of a six volume Cultural Histories of Media from antiquity to the 20th century, under contract with Bloomsbury, and I am co-editing the 19th-century volume.