Today we are introducing an article ‘Stamping “Imagination and Sensibility”: Objects, Culture, and Governance in Late Colonial Hong Kong’, by Allan T. F. Pang, University of Cambridge.
In August 1970, a quarrel about pigs arose between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Hong Kong government. Colonial officials had submitted designs of postage stamps commemorating the Lunar Year of the Pig, which would begin in January 1971. However, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Alec Douglas-Home rejected this outright: the pig image was in ‘bad taste’. Governor David Trench defended the design. Hong Kong people treasured the Lunar New Year stamps, he argued, and discontinuing this series would lead to public discontent. ‘Regret I do not consider it feasible to produce a satisfactory design commemorating the Year of the Pig without incorporating a pig’, Trench replied in a telegraph, ‘and I also do not consider it possible to explain the absence of a 1971 commemorative issue without causing much comment and some ridicule’. London and Hong Kong officials eventually compromised. After understanding the local importance of the stamps, Douglas-Home softened his tone and explained that he simply objected to the design, not the issue. Local officials accommodated Douglas-Home’s taste by replacing the local Chinese pig with a boar.
This article argues that the colonial government used postage stamps and coins to demonstrate its care for local customs and shape public opinion. The government aimed to bridge the communication gap between society and the state by featuring Chinese culture on these everyday objects. It also utilized people’s cultural attachment to China to create a benevolent image of itself.
The context for this colonial policy included local events and Anglo-Chinese diplomacy. Riots in the late 1960s highlighted the need to address social discontent and close the communication gap. The British and colonial governments recognized that Hong Kong’s future lay with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and sought to maintain the status quo while discussing the colony’s future with Chinese leaders.
Governor Murray MacLehose, who took office in 1971, devised strategies to safeguard British interests in future negotiations regarding Hong Kong. He aimed to make conditions in Hong Kong superior to those in China to discourage absorption by the Central People’s Government. This strategy included improvements in housing, education, and cultural development.
The colonial officials utilized Chinese culture to improve relations with the local population, many of whom had a cultural attachment to China. They recognized the importance of preserving Chinese customs and countering Chinese patriotism. Local leaders and social figures expressed their attachment to Chinese culture, and the younger generation demanded recognition of Chinese language and protested against Japan’s territorial claims.
The colonial government incorporated Chinese symbols into postage stamps and coins, working with the Crown Agents and the Royal Mint. By doing so, they aimed to secure people’s trust and support by aligning with the local population’s cultural preferences.
Photo and article source:
Allan T. F. Pang, Stamping ‘Imagination and Sensibility’: Objects, Culture, and Governance in Late Colonial Hong Kong