Press Freedom Workshop

The History of Press Freedom in Hong Kong, Britain and the Empire/Commonwealth

 University of Bristol | 20 June 2016
Venue: Room G77A, Arts Complex (enter at 3/5 Woodland Road), University of Bristol 

9.30am-11am – Session 1:
Martin Hewitt, University of Huddersfield – Press Freedom and Regulation in C19th Britain

Simon Potter, UoB – Press Freedom and Regulation in the British Empire and Commonwealth

 11am-11.30am – Coffee

 11.30am-1pm – Session 2:
Su Lin Lewis, UoB – Connected Publics: Syndication Networks and Roving Editors in Penang, Hong Kong, and Colombo c.1920-1940

Cherian George, Hong Kong Baptist University – Legacies of Colonial-era Legislation on Freedom of Expression and Communal Tensions

 1pm-2pm – Lunch

 2pm-3.30pm – Session 3:
Michael Ng, University of Hong Kong – Rule of Law in Hong Kong History Demystified: Student Umbrella Movement of 1919

Vaudine England, Hong Kong History Project, UoB – From Punch to Panda-Monium: what Spikes Satire?

 3.30pm-4pm – Tea

 4pm-5pm – Roundtable

Mark Hampton (Lingnan University), Robert Bickers (UoB), Sabrina Fairchild (UoB)

There is no charge to attend, but please register by emailing Laura Lanceley – laura [dot] lanceley [at] bristol [dot] ac [dot] uk, mentioning any dietary or access requirements.

Sweeting Summary Points to New Studies

Publishing about Eurasians has picked up in the twenty-first century after the dismal twentieth. Aside from books such as Eurasian by Emma Teng, which includes some aspects on Hong Kong, David Pomfret of Hong Kong University published his research comparing creations of race and class in French and British colonies in 2009.

Most recently, there has been the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong Branch which published the results of the late Anthony Sweeting’s research, unfinished though that was. Edited neatly by the Hong Kong University’s Peter Cunich, this is a useful summation of the subject to date, and a major prod to further work.

Tony Sweeting had taught the history of education at HKU for many years before his death in 2008. With his wife Samsan, he had also helped add two more Eurasian children to the Hong Kong population. He had hoped to publish a full characterisation of Hong Kong’s Eurasians, past, present and future, but only got to chapter three which is this historical overview compressed for the Journal.

He introduces the familiar root of the word ‘Eurasian’ in Anglo-India, and considers the variations covered now by such a loose term (including mixes such as the Parsee-Chinese Kotewalls). He concludes that a Eurasian is someone ‘prepared to accept a Eurasian designation’, or ‘who identified themselves, at least to some extent, with Eurasians’. This is a far larger basket of people than one defined purely by genealogy. Yet surely it excludes those who, by mixed origin, blood and culture are Eurasian but who, for whatever reason, refuse to accept the term?

It is by now a truism that Eurasians are the in-between, the target of both the prejudice associated with a lack of racial purity, and the envy of those unable to straddle the cultural and linguistic divide so well. It is perhaps the Hong Kong Eurasian’s misfortune that the first products of that liaison between European colonialist and local woman occurred in the early 19th century instead of a century earlier.

Sweeting does not tackle this, but the timing of Hong Kong’s emergence as a colony directly shaped the kind of colony it would be. Older colonial excursions, by the Portuguese, Dutch, French and British, in an earlier, more swashbuckling age, were pursued more by adventurers than government bureaucrats; local liaison including marriage and the production of large healthy mixed-race children, was long considered the best way for a newly arrived colonialist to nestle in, learn local languages and customs, and gain power and influence in the particular locale.

Perhaps a thorough history of Hong Kong’s Eurasians would need to consider the later, nineteenth century reality of greater government involvement in empire, the oft-misunderstood idea of Victorian prudishness and, more importantly, the development of ideas about race in the era of the rising nation-state.

Instead, as Sweeting notes, first liaisons were most likely among the lower class levels of sailors, soldiers and merchants, with local women; liaisons almost invariably not sanctified by marriage. Sweeting rightly points to Daniel Caldwell as one of the first to break that mould by going so far as to marry his love, in the Cathedral, and thus render his mixed-race offspring respectable in law, at least. (Professor Bickers points out that the idea that no Eurasians involving British people existed before 1942, as asserted by Stephen Fisher’s thesis, is wrong if the existence of Britons elsewhere on the Coast, particularly in Macao, is taken into account. Probably several half-British families were among Hong Kong’s earlier settlers.)

As with the definition of the word ‘Eurasian’, race is not enough in determining the status or fate of Eurasian offspring. As the Caldwell children grew up loved and educated, others fell by the wayside, neglected products of prostitution. By the mid-nineteenth century however, Hong Kong was building the institutions needed to support the tangible product of Hong Kong’s mixing. The Diocesan schools, and the government’s Central School, would produce a new elite of men (and only men) able to translate between West and East in the broadest sense of that word. The names are now familiar: Robert Hotung and his relatives, Sin Tak Fan, Chan Kai Ming and others.

More evidence that not all Eurasians, or their Chinese mothers (be they sex workers, ‘protected women’ or other dependents), were neglected can be found in the wills made by departing merchants. Some of the biggest names of Hong Kong, from Dent’s, Jardines, Lindsay & Co and more, made specific provision for the women they left behind. These men were not prepared to grant British law to these unions during their life but would often give substantial chunks of their wealth to the products of those unions in their death.

As Sweeting’s work took him into the early twentieth century he noted an increase in status of Eurasians at the same time as there seemed to be an increase in discrimination too. He worked through the creation of the Welfare League to defend Eurasian rights and dignity; credit is given to names such as Kotewall, Ho and Lo as men who entered the very highest levels of Hong Kong political life. He revisited the controversy created by accusations against Sir Robert Kotewall of collaboration during World War Two, noting that it was easier to forgive Lo Man-kam who had escaped Hong Kong than to accept the ‘extreme toadying’ of Kotewall who stayed in Hong Kong under Japanese rule throughout the war. Yet of course Kotewall had been asked by the British to stay and do what he could to keep food shipments coming in. Perhaps such accusations and the resultant bitterness reflect as much on feuds within the Eurasian community as they do on their wider status in Hong Kong life.

Through many more pages of fascinating detail, Sweeting, via Cunich, concluded that while the blatant prejudice and discrimination of decades long past has since dissipated, Eurasians remain a transitional group, subject to misunderstanding and certainly worthy of greater study.


Fisher, Stephen F., ‘Eurasians in Hong Kong: A Sociological Study of a Marginal Group’, PhD Thesis, University of Hong Kong, 1975.

Pomfret, David M., ‘Raising Eurasia: Race, Class and Age in French and British Colonies’, Comparative Studies in Society and History  51:2 (2009), 314-343.

Sweeting, Tony (ed. Peter Cunich), ‘Hong Kong Eurasians’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong Branch 55 (2015), 83-113.

Teng, Emma, Eurasian: Mixed Identities in the United States, China and Hong Kong, 1842-1943, University of California Press, 2013.

HKU 2016 Spring Symposium CFP

The University of Hong Kong’s History Department has released the following call for papers:

Spring Symposium

Open to History Research Postgraduate Students
Hosted by the Department of History, University of Hong Kong

Thursday 5 May 2016

Call for Papers

The Department of History at the University of Hong Kong is pleased to announce its eighth Spring Symposium. This symposium provides an opportunity for research postgraduates working on Asian history at universities in Hong Kong and abroad to share their ideas and learn from fellow scholars. Presentations will be arranged in panels of four papers of 15 to 20 minutes in length, followed by question and answer sessions. All those interested in presenting a paper are invited to submit a 200-word abstract and full Curriculum Vitae to Federico Pachetti ( or Reed Chervin ( by 31 January 2016. Successful applicants will be notified by mid-February.

The event is free of charge, and meals will be provided.

Kaori Abe’s City of Intermediaries

Dissertation Reviews has posted a review of Kaori Abe’s fascinating doctoral dissertation, The City of Intermediaries: Compradors in Hong Kong from the 1830s to the 1880s. Take a look at:

Kaori is currently Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Nanyang Technological University. She completed her PhD in the Department of History at the University of Bristol under the supervision of Prof. Robert Bickers.

Also be sure to also take a look at her recent article in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society: ‘Intermediary Elites in the Treaty Port World: Tong Mow-chee and His Collaborators in Shanghai, 1873–1897’.

2016 HK History Project Studentship Announced

The Hong Kong History Project Studentship for next year has just been announced. Generously funded by the Hatton Trust, this scholarship will support a doctoral project to be undertaken in the University of Bristol’s Department of History under the supervision of Prof. Robert Bickers starting in 2016.

Students will also get the opportunity to contribute to the Past Matters Festival of History.

For further information and details about how to apply, check out:

And be sure to check back next week to find out more about the research of Vivian Kong, current recipient of the Hong Kong History Project Studentship!