Welcome to the Hong Kong History Centre’s quarterly round-up.
As you will see as you read on, the autumn has seen a busy programme of talks and research events. We have also welcomed to Bristol two new holders of the Hong Kong History Centre PhD Scholarships, Tracy Leung who has joined us after studying at the Hong Kong Baptist University and University of Hong Kong, and Ryan Iu, after graduating from the University of British Columbia. We now have eight students working with us on PhDs, and a complement of seven staff across the Department of History and the Library’s Special Collections. We have been making quiet background progress on a planned new ‘Historical Photographs of Hong Kong’ online platform, as well as assessing and preparing to catalogue donations of archival material and books and journals.
Plans for 2024 are also in train, and will include a conference, an exhibition of photographs, more academic talks and some new initiatives to engage with wider audiences. When we next write we hope to be able to share news about further appointments to our team in Special Collections, and to the Centre team in History. We have also launched a Visiting Scholars programme (and there’s still time to apply!) Perhaps the quarterly theme could be summed up as ‘connecting’: connecting with colleagues at Bristol, with scholars and audiences across the UK and internationally, and with new collaborators.
As well as arrivals, we marked the departure of Dr Tom Larkin to the University of Prince Edward Island. Tom has worked with us since arriving from the University of York, Ontario in 2017 to start a PhD, then moving on to a very productive research fellowship. His book, The China Firm: American Elites and the Making of Colonial Society will be out in the spring from Columbia University Press. We will miss Tom’s generosity and digital flair, and we wish him well as he begins his new adventure in the Maritimes. Ray Yep’s new book, ‘The Long 1970s: MacLehose, London and Colonial Hong Kong’, is now in press with Hong Kong University Press, and the team gathered together with friends and colleagues on 1 December to toast Dr Vivian Kong’s new volume, Multiracial Britishness: Global Networks in Hong Kong, 1910–45.
On the 5th October, our Speaker’s Series had Dr. Florence Mok, Nanyang Technological University, giving a book talk on her recent book Covert Colonialism: Governance, Surveillance and Political Culture in British Hong Kong, c. 1966-97. She addressed a highly contested and timely agenda, one in which colonial historians have made major interventions: the nature of colonial governance and autonomy of the colonial polity.
On the 11th of the same month, we met Vaudine England to celebrate her book ‘Fortune’s Bazaar: The Making of Hong Kong’. Her well-researched, and vibrant new history of Hong Kong that reveals the untold stories of the diverse peoples who have made it a multicultural world metropolis-and whose freedoms are endangered today.
On the 24th, we have another talk of the Speaker’s Series by Dr. Cecilia Chu of Chinese University of Hong Kong on her award-winning book Building Colonial Hong Kong: Speculative Development and Segregation in the City. Tracing what she calls “speculative urbanism” where different constituencies–British developers, colonial officials, as well as property-owning and working-class Chinese–struggled over the politics of colonial difference and property rights in shaping the built environment, she explored the interplay between British colonial governance and the political practices of native propertied classes.
On the 26th, we hosted the second workshop of Network of Early Career Scholars on Hong Kong History. It was enjoyable afternoon with Nathanael Lai (University of Cambridge) investigating loans, textbooks, and the Cold War in 1950s Southeast Asia and Hong Kong; Clara Cheung (University of York) tracing the “cultural representations” of Hong Kong and Malaysia in the activities of the Commonwealth Institute in London in the 1960s-70s; Allan Pang (University of Cambridge) illustrating the flow of historical knowledge and the colonial response in Hong Kong, Malaya, and Singapore in the 1950s; and Doris Y. S. Chan (Nanyang Technological University) looking into the transfer of Chinese educational knowledge, teachers and students between Hong Kong and North Borneo from around 1950s to early 1960s.
Turning into November, on the 7th we held our Hong Kong History Centre internal launch. The Centre Co-directors Robert Bickers and Vivian Kong, and Research Director, Ray Yep, spoke about the Centre’s activities since Sept 2022 and our future engagement plans. We thanked our sponsors, DARO, Faculty, School and the University for facilitating the establishment of the Centre.
On the 17th November, Dr. Angelina Y. Chin of Pomona College gave us an online book talk for the Speaker’s Series on her book Unsettling Exiles: Chinese Migrants in Hong Kong and the Southern Periphery During the Cold War. She foregrounded the experiences of the many people who passed through Hong Kong without settling down or finding a sense of belonging, including refugees, deportees, “undesirable” residents, and members of boat communities. Emphasizing that flows of people did not stop at Hong Kong’s borders but also bled into neighboring territories such as Taiwan and Macau, she develops the concept of the “Southern Periphery”—the region along the southern frontier of the PRC, outside its administrative control yet closely tied to its political space.
On the 28th November, Dr. Philip Thai of Northeastern University gave us a talk titled ‘A Hole in the Bamboo Curtain: Hong Kong in the Cold War’ for the Speaker’s Series. He examined the histories of “red capitalists” and Chinese Communist front companies which operated within the interstices of Cold War rivalries and fractured jurisdictions.
On the 3rd December, we hosted a private screening of a documentary ‘尚未完場 To Be Continued’ in Watershed. This evocative documentary is a deep dive into the forgotten legend of Harry Odell, Hong Kong’s most notable post Second World War impresario. Nearly 100 guests enjoyed the film and also participated in a Q&A session with the film directors Dora Choi and Haider Kikabhoy to find out some behind-the-scenes stories.
During the event, we also showcased a sneak preview of episode one of ‘Hong Kong Documented”, featuring Vivian. Dr Kong shared her story of being born and raised in Hong Kong and introducing a ‘Hong Kong and the World’ teaching unit in Bristol. She also provided some reflections about the long history of engagement that Hong Kongers have made with Britishness. The whole series, co-produced by Hong Kong History Centre and Society for Hong Kong Studies, will be officially released very soon.
On the 6th December, our former HKHC Leverhulme Trust research fellow, Dr. Helena Lopes of Cardiff University, returned to visit us and introduced her book Neutrality and Collaboration in South China: Macau during the Second World War. Exploring the intersections of local, regional and global dynamics, she analysed the layers of collaboration that developed from neutrality in Macau during the Second World War, arguing that neutrality eased the movement of refugees of different nationalities who sought shelter in Macau during the war and that it helped to guarantee the maintenance of colonial rule in Macau and Hong Kong in the post-war period.
On the 8th December, Prof. Ray Yep attended “Hong Kong Studies Go Global” Conference in Taipei. The Conference was organized by Institute of Sociology of Academia Sinica and there were more than 300 participants. Prof. Yep made a presentation on the operation and progress of Hong Kong History Centre.
Prof Robert Bickers travelled to London on the 10th December to address the inaugural meeting of the Armed Forces Hong Kong Association, through which men and women with a personal connection to Hong Kong working across the UK Ministry of Defense come together to share experiences and views. In October Robert addressed a different gathering when he gave a talk about the Centre and its plans at the autumn lunch of the Gloucester Branch of the Hong Kong Society.
Looking ahead we are finalising an exciting programme of talks to be held at the Speakers’ Series, as well as a workshop series for early career scholars on Hong Kong history.
We are also developing new community engagement initiatives. First off will be a History Salon on the 27th January 2024. If you want to receive information and news from Hong Kong History Centre, please subscribe to our mailing list by filling out the form at the bottom of this page.
We are grateful for the support and feedback we have received from our audiences and supporters, and we hope to see you again in the future, or if we have not seen you yet, we hope that this roundup gives you a flavour of the events we have been sponsoring.