HKHP: In the past decade or so, Hong Kong witnessed a blossoming of social media pages on Hong Kong history (blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, Patreon pages – you name it). They provide much great content and help make Hong Kong history more accessible to the general public. In April this year, we participated in a panel discussion on ‘the Future of “Hong Kong History” as a public history and discipline’. Chair of the panel Reynold Tsang, now DPhil student at the University of Oxford, asked enlightening questions about what academia and public history pages could learn from each other. We thought this was a question worth further exploring, and Reynold has kindly agreed to contribute a series of two blogposts to give us an overview of these public history pages, and to share with us some observations that he, an academic historian, has made about such pages.
Before we hand over to Reynold, we wanted to note that Reynold has recently compiled a list, “History Pages, Channels and Websites in Hong Kong”, to record the blossoming of history pages in the past decade or so. The list has 88 entries in total, in which 13 offer English content. Most of them focus on Hong Kong history. Readers of this blogpost might find it useful to also check out this list as they read this blogpost.
“Comment, Like, and Share!” – The Boom of Hong Kong’s History Pages
(Part 1: Overview)
(DPhil student, University of Oxford)
On 18th October 2020, nearly 10,000 people flocked to the Hong Kong Museum of History to visit the “Hong Kong Story” exhibition for one last time, as this flagship exhibition for nineteen years would be closed for a major revamp. Some visitors took photos of every object, text panel, and decoration in the exhibition as if the city’s history would be lost forever after the revamp. Hongkongers’ interest in history is not an ephemeral trend triggered by the closure of a twenty-year-old exhibition. In recent years, the subject of history, especially Hong Kong history, has gained enormous public interest. Many young history enthusiasts set up social media pages, channels, and websites (pages in short) to discuss and promote history. In 2020 alone, at least sixteen history pages were established.
Public history essays and podcasts are not something new in Hong Kong. They first appear as historical anecdotes in newspapers and on the radio. Early examples include the “Old Hongkong” column by Colonial (Vincent Jarrett) on South China Morning Post in the 1930s, the “香港史地” column by Ye Lingfeng (葉靈鳳) on Sing Tao Daily and the “香港掌故錄” programme on RTHK in the mid-twentieth century. Their contents are surprisingly similar to contemporary history pages. Some recurrent topics include the etymology of “Hong Kong”, the past and present of streets and buildings, changes on the coastline, and pirates.
In Part 1 of this two-part blogpost, I will provide an overview on the blossoming of history pages in the past few years. My discussion will focus on the “Hong Kong history” pages.
When did history pages appear? The first batch of history pages emerged shortly after the prevalence of Facebook in the late 2000s. Research groups such as 香港歷史研究社, Conservancy Association Centre for Heritage, and Society of Hong Kong History opened their Facebook pages in the early 2010s. At that time, these pages mainly served as a media platform for their organisations, publicizing their latest publications and events. Meanwhile, English-language pages developed a bit differently. Founded in 2009 and 2012 respectively, Gwulo and the Industrial History of Hong Kong Group started out as websites and welcome contributions from the public. They have now become prominent “Hong Kong history” discussion forums for English readers.
When did the boom take place and why? The number of history pages, particularly those in Chinese, increased significantly since the mid-2010s. Unlike their predecessors, the new batch of history pages usually centred on social media without a parent organisation. Since every page has its own objective and vision, it is hard to generalise the reason for the boom. However, many pages share the aim to “preserve” and “pass down” Hong Kong history, with some warning the city’s past is in danger of being forgotten. Apart from fearing the loss of Hong Kong history, there is a general concern about the official interpretation or reshaping of Hong Kong history. This explains why people rushed to the “Hong Kong Story” exhibition before it is “reinterpreted” and recorded everything in it. The Umbrella Movement in 2014 and the subsequent political environment no doubt contributed to this worry. Fearing increasing government control over history education, some history enthusiasts present their own version of Hong Kong history on social media to counter the official historical narrative. The 2019-2020 Hong Kong Protests and the 2020 HKDSE History Exam Controversy likely intensified the boom. Between January 2019 and May 2021, nearly 30 “Hong Kong history” pages were established.
The next question comes naturally. “Is this a ‘yellow’ (pro-democracy) page or a ‘blue’ (pro-government) page?” This is a question typical to Hong Kong’s polarised society, but it is in no way senseless. “All history is contemporary history.” History can hardly be neutral, and historians are meant to make arguments. As touched on above, some history pages aim to debunk the official historical narrative and present history from a Hongkonger (instead of Chinese or colonial) perspective. These so-called “yellow pages” often debate (indirectly) with the government and the pro-government camp on controversial historical topics, for example, “When was Hong Kong incorporated into China? How ancient is that?”, “Was the 1967 Riots a just struggle against colonial oppression or a violent campaign terrorising the public?”, “Did the colonial government ever offer democracy to Hong Kong?” More frequently, they use historical events to criticize or satirise current affairs. Meanwhile, some pages are being labelled as “blue pages”. They usually refer to pages sponsored by or affiliated to pro-government organisations. While a few of them focus on Hong Kong history, they generally lay emphasis on Chinese history, viewing Hong Kong history as an adjunct to national history. These pages usually avoid sensitive issues concerning the Chinese regime and perceive British colonial rule in a bad light. They also talk more about Hong Kong’s ancient history and highlight the close tie between Hong Kong and mainland China. In short, they assist the government to promote the official historical narrative. It is important to note that the definition for “yellow page” and “blue page” is vague and only a handful of pages openly declared their political stance. Many history pages are neither “yellow” nor “blue”.
What can I find in history pages? Tons of stuff! There are two kinds of “Hong Kong history” pages. The first kind surveys Hong Kong history as a whole and touches on multiple areas, while the second kind specialises in one or two subjects only. Most pages of the first kind focus on the modern history of Hong Kong, namely the city’s colonial past. Nevertheless, around ten pages look at Hong Kong’s ancient history. Among the latter pages, “Architecture and Historical Monuments” is the most popular subject, with fifteen pages specialising in it. Other popular subjects include “City Development” (such as the origin and planning of streets and neighbourhoods), “Military History”, and “Tradition and Culture”. Please refer to the “Main Content” column at my “History Pages, Channels, and Websites in Hong Kong” list for details.
The boom of Hong Kong’s history pages does not simply reflect Hongkongers’ rising interest in history. It also shows their will to take control of the past, no matter they are pro-government or pro-democracy. Through social media, history is no longer confined to universities, schools, museums, or even printed publications. Almost everyone can access history pages and basically everyone can create their own history page(s). Nevertheless, there are opportunities as well as challenges.
In Part 2 of this blogpost, Reynold will discuss the challenges and opportunities that these public history pages present us. Stay tuned!
 Please see the “Curriculum Framework of National Security Education in Hong Kong” for the latest official narrative on Hong Kong history and Chinese History (https://www.edb.gov.hk/tc/curriculum-development/kla/pshe/national-security-education/index.html).
 For older history pages, I would count the founding year of their parent organisations, as their websites may appear way earlier than their social media pages.
 Argued by Italian philosopher and historian Benedetto Croce in Theory & History of Historiography.