Introducing Chi Chi Huang

Our guest writer this week is Chi Chi Huang, who recently finished her PhD at the University of Hong Kong. (Congrats Dr. Huang!) By incorporating archival research and the study of visual culture into her project, Chi Chi’s research explores how British popular culture imagined Hong Kong in the late 19th and the early 20th centuries. Here’s Chi Chi telling us how memories of her trips to Hong Kong as a kid influenced the direction of her research. 

I was so excited for my first trip overseas. Mum packed a little goodie bag for me with a tube of Fruit Tingles (a real treat) and Pak Fah Yeow (白花油) (in case I felt sick). I had just turned six, I was going to Guangzhou via Hong Kong for the very first time since I migrated to Australia at the age of two. The trip started with a small hiccup – a delightful detainment at Hong Kong Immigration and Customs where I experienced two firsts in my life. I, (well my father on my behalf), applied for my first individual passport because my previous one was attached to my mother’s, hence the hiccup. And I experienced my first nosebleed. My Uncle swiftly came down from Guangzhou with copies of various documents demonstrating that I was, in fact, “Dao Zi Huang”, the name only my doctor would use. Soon enough, or soon enough in my memory, we were all skipping along on our merry way to Guangzhou.

My second trip to Guangzhou via Hong Kong lives in my memory with less enthusiasm. I was about nine and the previous year, I watched the Handover ceremony on television with utter confusion as to how one country in the first instance could rent a section of another country like you would an apartment or car. This time, the distance between Hong Kong and Guangzhou seemed further apart and littered with more barriers and checkpoints. I think this memory is less a comment of the changes that took place after the Handover, rather a reflection of the things I chose to pay attention to as a kid. In any case, I was not impressed. I simply could not understand why it was so hard to move around Canton!

These trips shaped my curiosity towards the city and ultimately the questions I asked in my PhD research. I grew up thinking of Hong Kong and Guangzhou as more or less one entity because, in my mind, everyone spoke Cantonese, enjoyed steamed fish with abandon, and ate wonton noodles. Once I started to grasp the concept of politics and diplomacy, I started to notice the differences between the two cities. When I was proposing a research topic, I was intrigued by what my friends knew and thought of Hong Kong and China, which seemed to mirror my own initial understanding. This led me to think about how cities shift in ones’ perception through experiences and exposure. Extrapolating from this, I began my research with the question “How did Britain perceive Hong Kong in the early colonial period, and how did this change over time?” Inevitably, this topic was too large, and I refined my core question to “In what ways was Hong Kong made to matter to Britain?”

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the colony of Hong Kong had no discernible product or produce that was a quotidian feature of home life in Britain. The population in Hong Kong, whilst Chinese, wasn’t considered necessarily as intriguing as the more “authentic” visions that could be found just a few hours north of the colony. Hong Kong, however, was far from absent in British popular culture. In the various iterations of this public space, Hong Kong slowly morphed into a tropical ideal, in its geographical position, physical features, and social offerings. These ideals were, of course, in constant tension with colonial anxieties. But it is exactly in this tension that the value of Hong Kong as understood by individuals, scientists, merchants, and the colonial administration was expressed.

One of the postcards that Chi Chi used in her research. (Hong Kong Pavillion at the British Empire Exhibition, Postcard, Fleetway Press Ltd., 1924)

I am now contemplating how to turn my thesis into a book and I find myself wandering back to those memories and to the time when I conflated ideas of Hong Kong and Guangzhou. Before the outbreak of the war in the Pacific, Hong Kong was often talked about in relation to Canton, Macau, Singapore, Shanghai, Calcutta, Scotland, and even Budapest. Some of these connections are more obvious than the others, but it speaks to the malleability of how Hong Kong was perceived by the British. Perhaps the city’s current brand as “Asia’s World City” holds some historical truth, as Hong Kong refracted visions, aspirations, and concerns from across the globe.


Introducing Reynold Tsang

This week our guest writer is Reynold Tsang, MPhil student at the University of Hong Kong. Born and raised in Hong Kong, Reynold shares with us his research on the development of museums in late colonial Hong Kong, and how such research informs us about various aspects of the city’s history.


Thanks to the colourful history comic books from public libraries and various historically themed video games, I developed my interest in history at the very early stage of my life. I received my BA degree at HKU, and naturally picked History as my major. I did not have any specific research interest at first, but I was gradually attracted to Hong Kong history and history of colonialism by the end of my undergraduate study. I was born and raised in Hong Kong. As a Hongkonger, I am eager to learn more about the place I call home and love. I also feel the obligation to record the history of the city before part of it was lost or being forgotten. My interest in colonial history grew from my study of Hong Kong’s colonial past.

Apart from being a history lover, I am also a big fan of museums. So, I wrote about the development of museums in late colonial Hong Kong for my undergraduate dissertation. I later noticed that this topic has been overlooked by historians and there is much more to investigate. I therefore decided to continue my “unfinished” work on museums in late colonial Hong Kong in a more comprehensive manner in my MPhil study.

My study will span from the 1930s to the 1990s, covering the death, rebirth, and growth of museums in Hong Kong. I seek to answer three major questions in my study. First, how did the colonial government and the Urban Council direct museum development? Second, what were displayed or presented in the museums and why were they chosen? Third, what influences did museums bring to the community and how they interacted with each other? I will utilize different sources from various archives, including government documents, minutes and working papers of the Urban Council and the Hong Kong Legislative Council, English and Chinese newspapers, brochures and other publications of museums, guidebooks and other promotional materials for tourists.

Museum history may seem trivial, but it can shed light on different themes and issues in Hong Kong history. For example, by studying the planning and directions of museum services, we can learn about the cultural policies of the colonial authorities, which give us insights on the colonial administration of Hong Kong; by examining the collections and contents of museums, we can identify what kinds of “knowledge” and “facts” were the colonial authorities trying to convey to the public, thus revealing the hidden political or cultural agenda of the colonial authorities. Museums are also highly related to arts and culture, education and tourism. With connections to various aspects of society, museum history offers us a new perspective to look at the history of colonial Hong Kong.