Introducing Ryan Iu

One of the Centre’s missions is to nurture a new generation of Hong Kong historians.

An Early Career Scholar Network was created under the Hong Kong History Centre in June 2023. It is intended to help create a community of Hong Kong historians and offer a platform for face-to-face interaction and academic exchange among young scholars. Research students and fresh doctoral graduates working on socioeconomic, political and cultural history of Hong Kong and its global relevance are welcomed. We usually meet thrice a year (February, June and October) with participants taking turn to present their works in each meeting. Financial support is provided for our network members attending these sessions.

Please write to Prof. Ray Yep, Research Director of Hong Kong History Centre, at, if you are interested in joining this Network.


In this post, we would like to introduce Ryan Iu, a member of the Network.

Ryan Iu is a PhD student in Bristol. In the note written by him below, he shares with us his reflections on his academic journey and current project on ‘Imperial Graduates: Mapping Hong Kong’s Elites’ Networks across the British Empire, 1862-1941’.


Ite ad fontes, a Latin phrase that could be translated to ‘Go back to the origins’.

It was the summer of 2021, and I am knee-deep in archival research at the University of Hong Kong Special Collection. This wasn’t just any old summer break – no, I was on a research trip in the midst of my master’s program at the University of British Columbia, digging out useful materials for my master’s thesis. And then it happened, as I was flipping through pages of The Anglo Chinese Commercial Directory from 1915, I stumbled upon a name that caught my eye. Without hesitation, I messaged my father.

“Hey Dad, I found someone in some old Hong Kong directories from 1915 who shares the same romanization of our last name ‘Iu’ (姚 in Chinese). His name is ‘Iu Nim Yu’, and he worked as a clerk at the International Banking Corporation. I can’t believe I found this in some old directories!”

My father responded. “Yes, it is quite interesting. You know, our family has deep roots in Hong Kong, going back generations. I’ve heard that our unique romanization of ‘Iu’ instead of the more common ‘Yiu’ stems from our ancestor’s desire to differentiate themselves from other ‘Yius’.”

Fast forward to the summer of 2023. After acquiring the genealogy book from a distant relative in Hong Kong, I dove into its pages, eager to trace my family’s roots. What I discovered left me utterly stunned, mouth agape in disbelief. ‘Iu Nim Yu’ was not just a random name from the past – he was my great-grandfather, operating under a pseudonym. None of my immediate family members had any clue of this discovery; after all, my great-grandfather had passed away when my grandfather was just a toddler, and my grandfather himself had long left this world before I came into it. Further research revealed that the Iu family had wielded significant influence within the comprador networks of the International Banking Corporation (now Citibank) in Hong Kong during the early twentieth century.

Staff and Compradors of the International Banking Corporation Hong Kong Branch in 1906. 5 out of 11 of them carried the last name ‘Iu’. (Photo from Peter Starr, Citibank: A Century in Asia (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, 2002), 32.)
1906年香港萬國寶通銀行分行的員工和買辦。圖中11人有5人姓「姚」(Iu)。 (相片來源:Peter Starr, Citibank: A Century in Asia (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet, 2002), 32.)

Well, of course, my passion for studying the past extends beyond being an ancestry detective. Vice versa, thanks to my obsession with history, it pays to go back to my origins – you never know what fascinating secrets you might uncover along the way. My interest in history started when I was a child – it was diverse, ranging from ancient Chinese history (thanks to the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms) to modern European history (courtesy of the movie The Sound of Music). This passion led me to major in history at the University of British Columbia. After earning my BA, I hungered for more knowledge and initially planned to research the populace’s opinion in Germany towards the Treaty of Versailles. However, due to a language barrier in German, I shifted my focus to my hometown – Hong Kong – and ended up writing a master’s thesis titled ‘The Government Central School and the Elite Networks in Early Colonial Hong Kong’. Initially, I intended to study the multi-ethnic body of students in the Central School, but as I delved into my research, I became fascinated by the interconnected networks among the elite alumni, who formed such networks through marriage, political and commercial collaborations, civic partnerships, etc. I argued that the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural Central School was a conducive site for building networks and fostering a conflicting ‘Westernized Chineseness’ mentality among these elites. Besides, I have built a Digital Humanities side project to visually represent the intricate networks of key bureaucratic figures in early colonial Hong Kong, revealing insights that may have been overlooked using traditional research method.

Digital Humanities project: Network in Early Colonial Hong Kong – Rhumbl Graph
數位人文平台: 早期殖民時期香港的網絡 – Rhumbl圖表

I saw potential in my research upon completing my master’s studies. What if I expand my investigation on the Hong Kong-based elite networks and reconsider them in a local, transregional, and intra-imperial context beyond Hong Kong and within the British Empire? In my proposed Ph.D. project tentatively titled ‘Imperial Graduates: Mapping Hong Kong’s Elites’ Networks across the British Empire, 1862-1941’, I aim to further investigate deeper into how these individuals have structured transpacific, maritime, and intra-imperial connections. By tracing their biographical experiences and extensive networks – beyond textual sources like newspapers and archival documents – I hope to recruit family members or descendants of these elites in oral history interviews, gathering insights into life stories and involvements of their elite ancestors while tracing their ancestry, origins, and familial networks.

Hong Kong was – and still is – a transnational hub. My research aims to reflect on the historical experiences and mechanism of empire and place Hong Kong within the framework of transnational (or transregional) and global history. It allows me to reimagine Hong Kong – through the Hong Kong-based elite network – as one dimension of the interconnected circulation of assets, ideas, institutions, objects, and social and cultural capital, and more.

Looking ahead, I hope the case studies in my research will inspire people to ponder their origins and ancestry, enriching the understanding of family histories. After all, everyone is connected through various types of networks. I am grateful to have been a student associate at the University of British Columbia’s Hong Kong Studies Initiative. Now, I am honoured and excited to be part of the University of Bristol’s Hong Kong History Centre family – with a vibrant network of young scholars – allowing me to contribute to the history of Hong Kong by pursuing my passion for uncovering the past and exploring origins.

Ite ad fontes, everyone.


Ite ad fontes ——一個拉丁詞語,可以翻譯為「回到起源」。




快轉到2023年的夏天。我從一位香港遠房親戚那裡得到族譜後,潛進字裏行間,渴望追溯我的家族根源。而當中的發現使我震驚,目瞪口呆,難以置信:「姚念愈」不是一個普通名字——他是我的太爺,而企業名錄記載的是他的字號。我的家人中沒有人知道他的字號;畢竟,我的太爺在我爺爺還是嬰兒的時候就去世了,而我爺爺也在我出生之前就過身了。在進一步研究後,我發現姚(IU) 氏家族在二十世紀初香港萬國寶通銀行(現為花旗銀行)的商業聯繫網中擁有重要影響力。



Prominent Members of the Chinese Community in Hong Kong (Photo from: Arnold Wright and H.A Cartwright, Twentieth Century Impressions of Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Other Treaty Ports of China: Their History, People, Commerce, Industries and Resources (London: Lloyds Greater Britain Publishing Co., 1908), 183.)
早期香港華人社區的知名成員。(相片來源:Arnold Wright and H.A Cartwright, Twentieth Century Impressions of Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Other Treaty Ports of China: Their History, People, Commerce, Industries and Resources (London: Lloyds Greater Britain Publishing Co., 1908), 183.)



各位,Ite ad fontes