Introducing Nathanael Lai

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

A Early Career Scholar Network was created under the Hong Kong History Centre in June 2023. It intends 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 attending these sessions.

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

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In this post, we would like to introduce Nathanael Lai, a member of the Network.

Nathanael Lai is a PhD student in University of Cambridge. In the note written by him below, he shares with us his reflections on his academic journey and current project on popular politics and Hong Kong’s regional connections.

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I was – I still am – struck by what I first read in December 2020. I was two months into graduate studies, starting to feel inundated by the sea of materials I must consume daily. But I could not put down Tim Harper’s then freshly published magnum opus. Underground Asia traces a connected arc of anti-colonial struggles across early-twentieth-century Asia. Hong Kong was a key site of connections, as revolutionaries banded together, sharing resources and drawing strength from a “sense of co-presence.” The book ends with Hong Kong. There, in a cell, Indonesian anti-colonialist Tan Malaka once said, hauntingly, to his British interrogators: “Remember this. My voice will be louder from the grave than ever it was while I walked the earth.”

My research to date embraces two themes of the book: popular politics and Hong Kong’s regional connections. My undergraduate thesis at HKU centred around the so-called 1956 riots in Hong Kong, a spillover from disputes in today’s Li Cheng Uk Estate on 10 October, the national day of the Republic of China. I was engrossed in the way the disturbances were narrated – not just by the state but by governor Alexander Grantham himself. His official report on the incident, published in English and Chinese, holds a special place in my intellectual journey. It introduced me to questions surrounding colonial statecraft, mass resistance, and the politics of translation. It opened up for me the world of historical research.

October 1956 was no less turbulent for Singapore. Clashes ensued from student protests in Chinese middle schools. I forayed into tracing Hong Kong’s Southeast Asian connections in my MPhil research at Cambridge. It was an experiment in writing “entangled histories” of Hong Kong and Singapore at a time when disturbances swept almost simultaneously across both colonies. British officials learnt from one another in quelling upheavals, while itinerant triads and intellectuals, “yellow culture,” and human rights discourses underpinned these episodes of dissent. Hong Kong’s history – I tasted and did for the first time – stretches well beyond Hong Kong.

The politics of the Cold War coursed through Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. My previous research crystallised into my PhD study. It scrutinises how historical actors articulated politics beyond “binaries” of the Cold War era: pro-communist versus anti-communist, left versus right, pro-Beijing versus pro-Taipei. I am invested in the Chinese capitalists, educationalists, journalists, and athletes travelling across 1950s Hong Kong and Southeast Asia – along what was effectively a Hong Kong-Singapore-Thailand corridor. Hong Kong’s history is part of Southeast Asia’s and vice versa. Indeed, my project afforded me the fortune of travelling, like my subjects, to different places, collecting pieces of Hong Kong’s past in far-flung archives and libraries: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Taipei.

Hong Kong was at the heart of Bangkok. The colony figured in the 1950s and 60s as a de facto “centre of cultural China” for Thailand’s Chinese communities. From newspapers to Teochew-dialect operas, from films to wuxia (martial arts) novels, Hong Kong’s cultural productions filled Bangkok’s Chinatown and beyond. Part of my research has delved into Chinese-language textbooks used in Thailand’s Chinese schools. Designed with a view to promoting the Kuomintang, they were edited by educationalists from across Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Taiwan, and published in Hong Kong.

Chinese-language textbooks published in Hong Kong and used in Thailand (Source: Chinese in Southeast Asia Collection, Central Library, National University of Singapore)香港出版之泰國中文教科書 (資料來源:新加坡國立大學圖書館東南亞華人特藏)
Chinese-language textbooks published in Hong Kong and used in Thailand (Source: Chinese in Southeast Asia Collection, Central Library, National University of Singapore)
香港出版之泰國中文教科書 (資料來源:新加坡國立大學圖書館東南亞華人特藏)

Hong Kong was at the heart of Southeast Asia. Another part of my research centres on Sing Tao Daily. This well-known Hong Kong newspaper was once the cornerstone of a media empire spanning Hong Kong and Southeast Asia: tycoon Aw Boon Haw’s “Star” newspapers. One journalist by the name of Jimmy Wu – branded by many as “leftist,” whose life I am still trailing in earnest – started off as Sing Tao’s chief reporter. But he later became the women’s column editor of Singapore’s Sin Chew Jit Poh and then chief editor of Bangkok’s Sing Sian Yer Pao. He drew on his Hong Kong contacts as he moved through this constellation of “Star” newspapers. He pieced together ideas about gender and politics at the same time as he revealed his own in Southeast Asia.

Hong Kong is at the heart of the world. My research has taught me Hong Kong’s role in the making of Southeast Asia. But the city was and is embedded in the region and beyond. I don’t take for granted the privilege to research the history of Hong Kong alongside other historians committed to the city’s regional and global connections. Nor do I take as given the chance here to contribute, however slightly, to the University of Bristol’s Hong Kong History Centre, one of the institutes flourishing outside Hong Kong that is dedicated to the city’s past. Hong Kong history promises to be part and parcel of the world, and I am grateful there is one part I could play in this.

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我曾經­ —— 現在仍然 —— 被幾年前第一次讀到的一本著作所震撼。當時我開始攻讀碩士兩個月,對每天需要閲讀海量的學術著作開始感到不知所措。但對於Tim Harper當時出版不久的一本鉅作,我卻毫不厭倦。《地下亞洲(Underground Asia)》追溯二十世紀初亞洲各地反殖民鬥爭的互聯關係。香港是革命家聚集、共享情報,並從彼此資取力量的一個重要樞紐。該著作以香港作結。印尼反殖民主義者Tan Malaka曾在當地的一個牢房裡,對審問他的英國官員說:「記住,我在墳墓裡的呼聲,將比我在世時的更為響亮。」

我目前為止的研究涵蓋書中兩大主題:「大眾政治」(popular politics)和香港的區域性聯繫。我在港大的學士論文追溯1956年10 月 10 日(中華民國國慶日)在香港發生、由李鄭屋村居民糾紛引發的一場騷亂(所謂五六或雙十暴動)。我對英國殖民政府­ —— 尤其是港督葛量洪(Alexander Grantham)本人 —— 如何敘述當時的情況非常感興趣。葛量洪就事件所撰寫,並以中英文出版的官方報告,對我的學術旅程具有特別意義。這份報告讓我更加了解殖民統治手法、群眾抵抗,以至翻譯的政治等議題。更重要的是,它帶我走進歷史研究的世界。

1956 年 10 月對新加坡來說同樣動盪不安。當地華校學生的示威行動觸發了大規模警民衝突。在英國劍橋攻讀碩士期間,我開始探索香港與東南亞的連結。我以當時在香港和新加坡幾乎同時發生的騷動為中心,嘗試剖析兩地歷史如何「交織」(entangle)起來。我發現當時兩地英國官員就如何平息動亂互相學習。同時,遊走香港以及東南亞的黑社會和知識分子、猖獗的「黃色文化」,以及有關人權之思潮貫穿港星兩地的反抗事件。我第一次意識到香港歷史原來遠遠超出香港的地域界限。

National Archives of Thailand (left); National Archives of Singapore (right)泰國國家檔案庫 (左); 新加坡國家檔案庫(右)
National Archives of Thailand (left); National Archives of Singapore (right)
泰國國家檔案庫 (左); 新加坡國家檔案庫(右)

冷戰政治席捲香港和東南亞。過往的研究塑造了我的博士論文題目。我的研究審視歷史人物如何表達冷戰時期不同「二元框架」(binaries)以外的政治思維,嘗試進一步打破當年不同所謂對立的意識形態:親共與反共、左派與右派、親中與親台。我特別關注在五十年代穿梭香港、新加坡和泰國三地(可謂「港星泰」走廊)的華人資本家、教育家、記者以及運動員,他們如何遊走冷戰時代的政治版圖。我認為,香港史是東南亞史的一部分,反之亦然。我的研究正正讓我有幸可以跟我關注的歷史人物一樣,遊走曼谷、清邁、吉隆坡、新加坡、台北等地,在不同檔案庫與圖書館收集與香港歷史相關的珍貴資料。

香港曾在曼谷扮演關鍵角色。上世紀五六十年代,香港對泰國華人社群而言是「中國文化」的源頭。香港的文化出品 —— 無論是報紙、潮州戲劇、電影或武俠小說 —— 均遍佈曼谷唐人街及其他社區。我的研究其中一部分正正探討泰國華校當年使用的中文教科書。部分教材以宣傳國民黨為目標,由香港、曼谷及台灣的教育家編輯,在香港出版。

香港曾在東南亞扮演關鍵角色。我的研究另一部分聚焦港人熟悉的《星島日報》。該報曾經是大亨胡文虎橫跨香港及東南亞的報紙帝國 —— 「星系報業」 —— 之重要基石。我現時仍在努力追蹤一位當年被標籤為「左派」的記者吳占美。四十至五十年代初,他是《星島》的採訪主任;一九五八年,他到新加坡擔任《星洲日報》的婦女版主編,及後成為曼谷《星暹日報》主編。吳氏在穿梭各「星系」報紙的同時,不忘善用他在香港建立的人脈;在東南亞編織有關性別等議題的報導同時,亦表露了自己的觀點與政治。

Southeast Asian Chinese Language Press Seminar in Hong Kong, 1966. Sally Aw (Sing Tao’s proprietor) as organiser (first row fifth from the left); Jimmy Wu (Bangkok Sing Sian Yer Pao’s chief editor) as participant (second row first from the right). (Source: Chinese Overseas Collection, University Library, Chinese University of Hong Kong)1966年於香港舉辦的東南亞中文報紙研討會。胡仙(《星島日報》持有人)為主辦人之一(前排左起第五位);吳占美(曼谷《星暹日報》主編)則為參加者之一(中排右起第一位)。(資料來源:香港中文大學圖書館海外華人特藏)
Southeast Asian Chinese Language Press Seminar in Hong Kong, 1966. Sally Aw (Sing Tao’s proprietor) as organiser (first row fifth from the left); Jimmy Wu (Bangkok Sing Sian Yer Pao’s chief editor) as participant (second row first from the right). (Source: Chinese Overseas Collection, University Library, Chinese University of Hong Kong)
1966年於香港舉辦的東南亞中文報紙研討會。胡仙(《星島日報》持有人)為主辦人之一(前排左起第五位);吳占美(曼谷《星暹日報》主編)則為參加者之一(中排右起第一位)。(資料來源:香港中文大學圖書館海外華人特藏)

香港在世界扮演關鍵角色。我的研究使我了解到香港在東南亞發展史中的地位。但香港的影響,不論以前抑或現在,均超越其自身以至東南亞這區域。我慶幸能夠與其他歷史學家共同研究香港歷史與其他區域以至世界的聯繫。我亦高興能夠在此 —— 英國布里斯托大學香港史研究中心(現時香港以外其中一所發展旺盛、聚焦香港史的研究中心)—— 分享自己的研究和願景。我深信香港史會成為世界重要的一部分,而我為自己可以為此出一分力感到榮幸。

“Hong Kong Documented” / 《香港史. 記》

Hong Kong Documented / 《香港史. 記》

“Hong Kong Documented”, a 10-episode series co-produced by Hong Kong History Centre and Society for Hong Kong Studies, showcases the works of experts and scholars of Hong Kong history studies. These committed history lovers adopt different approaches in preserving and promoting the knowledge of local history, with their fascinating works covering a wide range of issues: fashion, military, economy, identity, heritage building and Hong Kong representation in Britain etc. Together, they uncover the resilience of the city and enrich our understanding of our past.

New episodes will be released bi-weekly.

You can watch the video on our Centre’s YouTube Channel Playlist.

《香港史. 記》訪問系列,由香港史研究中心與香港學會聯合製作。一連十集的專輯,尋訪十位熱愛香港歷史的專家學者,介紹他們如何以不同形式和手法去探討各種課題目。他們的研究興趣廣泛,包括時裝、經濟、防務、身份認同、文物保育以至香港在英國的形象等。這些共同努力成果,呈現出香港這個城市的韌力,也大大提高我們對本地歷史的認識。

每兩星期將上載新一集影片。

你可以到我們中心的YouTube Channel Playlist觀看影片。


【Episode 1 / 第一集】

We talk to Dr. Vivian Kong, Co-Director of Hong Kong History Centre. She shares with us her career trajectory and her latest work on the multifaceted nature of the Hong Kong-UK bonding.

第一集,我們訪問了香港史研究中心聯合總監江偉欣博士。江博士與我們分享她的學術經歷,更闡述她對香港人親英情意結歷史軌跡的研究成果。


【Episode 2 / 第二集】

What is digital history? What is the role of Hong Kongers in the Battle of Hong Kong in 1941? Why does Chi Man fall in love with military history?

Dr. Kwong Chi Man, Hong Kong Baptist University, shares with us his passion about military and social history of Hong Kong and his new projects.

何謂數碼歷史?香港人在1941年的香港保衛戰有甚麼角色?鄺智文又何以會對軍事史有濃厚興趣?

在這個訪問中,香港浸會大學的鄺智文博士將會與我們分享他的研究興趣和觀察。


【Episode 3 / 第三集】

When did western suits become popular in Hong Kong? What are the historical and social implications behind this change of dress code? Dr. Katon Lee of Hong Kong Baptist University will share with us his insights on these issues in this new episode.

香港人何時開始穿著西裝?洋服潮流背後又有甚麼歷史和社會意義?今集請來香港浸會大學的李啟雋博士,為我們分析箇中故事。


【Episode 4 / 第四集】

Have you heard about Tai Ping Theatre in Western District? It was in fact a landmark building in Hong Kong movie business, and also a major venue for Cantonese traditional opera performance for artists in Hong Kong and Guangdong. In this episode, we will talk to Prof. Ching May Bo of City University of Hong Kong about her latest works on the history of Tai Ping Theatre.

有聽過西環的太平戲院嗎?你又可知道它不單止是香港電影業的地標,還曾經是廣東大戲在粵港一帶的重要表演場地。今場我們請來城市大學的程美寶教授,為我們細訴箇中歷史。


【Episode 5 / 第五集】

There has been growing interest in promotion of study of local history and heritage conservation in civil society in recent years. We will talk to three activists in coming episodes. Let’s start with David Bellis, who has been running Gwulo.com, a webpage of old Hong Kong photos for more than a decade.

學院以外,公民社會中有不少朋友以不同的方式去推動歷史教育以至保育工作。一連三集,我們會與大家分享三位民間高手的故事。率先登場的,是長期經營歷史圖片網頁Gwulo.com的 David Bellis(貝大衞)。


【Episode 6 / 第六集】

Art is an ideal form to document and reflect on the emotion and experience of people living through historical moments. In this episode, we will talk to Wu Hoi Fai, founder of One Pant Theatre Company. The Company has been very enthusiastic in producing drama on topics of Hong Kong history like 1967 and the transition.

藝術是反映歴史跌宕中人們的感情起伏和心路歷程的理想載體,我們今集訪問《一條褲劇團》的胡海輝,便一直喜愛以本地歷史課題例如1967和過渡期去創作話劇,以回應時代。


【Episode 7 / 第七集】

Paul Chan of Walk-in-Hong Kong has been very active in conservation movement in Hong Kong. Through walking tours, petition and film making, he has been making huge contribution to the preservation of our collective past. In this episode, he will share with us his strategies and thinkings behind all these initiatives.

在香港近年的歷史保育行動中,總可以找到《活現香港》陳智遠的身影。他努力以文化導賞、社會行動以至電影製作去保存香港歷史風貌。今集就由他來作親身解說,和我們分享他的理念和策略。


【Episode 8 / 第八集】

Can you imagine what kind of Hong Kong story was told a hundred years ago? Based on his research on Hong Kong’s participation in London’s British Empire Exhibitions in 1924 and 1925, Dr. Gary Wong of University of Leeds revisits the representations of Hong Kong in global scene in the inter-war years.

一百年前的香港故事,究竟是一個怎樣的故事?今集請來列斯大學的黃培烽博士,與我們分享他對1924-25 年期間在倫敦舉行的大英帝國博覽會(《英京賽會》)香港參展部份的研究,為我們揭示當年的香港形象。

Hong Kong History Centre on tour in Japan!

Hong Kong History Centre on tour in Japan!

In the first of two events in Japan in February, Robert Bickers and Vivian Kong will be meeting scholars at the Jinbunken, Kyoto University, to introduce the HKHC and their work.

「近現代中国の制度とモデル」班関係者

香港史に関するラウンドテーブル(220日)
本年1~3月に人文研に客員教授として赴任され、いただいたブリストル大学のRobert Bickers先生と先生の同僚のVivian Kong氏を囲んで以下のようにラウンドテーブルを開催することになりました。

日時:2月20日 15時~17時
場所:人文科学研究所本館4階セミナー室5
内容:
ブリストル大学のHong Kong History Centre(香港史研究中心)の紹介
Vivian Kong氏の新著、Multiracial Britishness: Global Networks in Hong Kong, 1910–45の紹介。
https://www.cambridge.org/jp/universitypress/subjects/history/east-asian-history/multiracial-britishness-global-networks-hong-kong-191045?format=HB

Bickers先生からは以下の様にメールをいただいています。

是非、ご参加いただければと思います。なお、使用言語は英語になります。

In this roundtable the co-directors of the Hong Kong History Centre 香港史研究中心 (HKHC), established at the University of Bristol in September 2022, will provide an introduction to the initiative and its work.

Professor Robert Bickers will first introduce the rationale for the development of the Centre, and present its team, its aims and ambitions.

In a talk on ‘Multiracial Britishness in 1910-45 Hong Kong’, Dr Vivian Kong will introduce her newly published book.

We hope to engage scholars internationally in the work of the HKHC, and would welcome feedback and suggestions from colleagues.

Website: https://www.hkhistory.net/

 

NEWS ROUND-UP: AUTUMN 2023

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 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

Group photo of 2nd workshop of early career scholars on Hong Kong.

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

 

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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. 

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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. 

Introducing Alex Cheung

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

A Early Career Scholar Network was created under the Hong Kong History Centre in June 2023. It intends 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 attending these sessions.

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

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In this post, we would like to introduce Alex Cheung, a member of the Network.

Alex Cheung 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 experience of migration.

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Alex Cheung photo for introducing.It is not easy to trace the exact moment I developed an interest in history, but I still remember the younger me always getting fascinated by history stories on TV, in books and video games. When I was studying history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, I was first introduced to the field of Hong Kong history. I also realised history is not just about remarkable events; it is closely relevant to ordinary life. Back then, I was particularly interested in urban history and planning history – whereas Hong Kong is described as a laissez faire city, the government and merchants had always been shaping the landscape of the city. During my MPhil study, I wrote a thesis ‘Town Planning of New Kowloon and Colonial Governance in Hong Kong, 1898-1941’ and explored how the colonial government planned and developed part of the New Territories (the government named it as ‘New Kowloon’) after the lease of the New Territories in 1898. I argued that the Hong Kong government did not simply copy the model of urban planning from Britain and other colonies. It negotiated with property developers over issues including public health, property speculation and terms of New Territories leases. Through this process, it introduced into the colony various practices of urban planning.

Having completed my MPhil thesis, I started rethinking whether the people merely passively lived in urban space as designated by the government and merchants. I developed greater interest in understanding the lived experience of urban dwellers and individual agency in history. When I drafted my PhD research proposal, I once conceived of studying the daily life of Chinese tenement dwellers in the early twentieth century. However, I gradually noticed the mobility of lower-class population of Hong Kong – they came from different places to Hong Kong and they stayed or left for different reasons. Living in Hong Kong was only part of their life. As I sought to explain the relationship between urban life in Hong Kong and experience of migration, I formulated my current research project, which is tentatively titled as ‘Seeking Home in the Colonial Port: Migration and Settlement of Chinese Workers in Hong Kong, c. 1900-1941’. In this research, I examine everyday experience of the working classes in dwelling and working in the port city and moving across borders. I also analyse how the colonial government and public discussed and dealt with associated problems. Apart from notions like race and class divisions, perceived differences between local residents and outsiders also complicated these discussions. Encountering these discursive and practical differentiations, lower-class migrants lived in an unsettled condition and resorted to migration as their tactic. 

In search of the experiences of lower-class migrants and attitudes of the government and local society towards them, I will examine a variety of sources. Apart from understanding officials’ perception and decision-making process through the colonial archive, I will also utilise newspapers and magazines to reconstruct how ordinary life was like. I will particularly pay attention to reports on police and court cases. In these cases, ordinary people were arrested and prosecuted for all sorts of crimes and offences. At the same time, they also left written records of their ideas and actions through interrogations of the police and the court (despite these records were usually written from the perspective of the interrogators). Apart from textual sources, I will also study the urban environment and details of life in old photos.

Highlighting labour mobility can help us understand the complicated relationship of the working class and Hong Kong. Like port cities all over the world, Hong Kong emerged amidst the growth of global trade. People from different places came to seek fortunes, rendering the boundary between locals and outsiders constantly in flux. We usually stereotyped the workers in Hong Kong before the Second World War as passer-by. They saw mainland China as home (or to be more precise, saw villages in southern China as home), temporarily stayed in Hong Kong for work and would return to their native villages for retirement and death. Such a narrative emphasised that they were bound to return to their home villages and downplayed how their experiences in Hong Kong affected their decisions of leaving or staying. Enduring inequalities in the colonial power relations, people living in Hong Kong once adopted different tactics to struggle for existence. 

Returning to the present, many Hongkongers are migrating overseas and moving between different places more frequently. Despite the historical context varies through time, the mobility of Hong Kong residents is common in past and present. I hope my research can facilitate understanding of the experience of migration and stimulate thinking about opportunities and restraints inherent in it. 

Chinese tenements, the typical type of accommodation for working-class population in colonial Hong Kong (photo from the National Archives, London, CO 129/450, p. 381H (16th December 1918)

Chinese tenements, the typical type of accommodation for working-class population in colonial Hong Kong (photo from the National Archives, London, CO 129/450, p. 381H (16th December 1918).

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回溯甚麼時候開始對歷史產生興趣並不容易,但還記得小時的我總電視、書本、電子遊戲等各種媒介接觸到的歷史故事着迷不已。直至我在香港中文大學修讀歷史本科時,開始接觸到香港史,同時認識到歷史不只是各種重大的事件,更是與大眾的日常生活切身相關。當時我對城市史、城市規劃史尤其感興趣——香港常被形容為一個自由放任(laissez faire)的城市,但政府、商人卻一直在形塑這個城市的景觀。為此,我在碩士時期撰寫了論文〈新九龍城市規劃與香港殖民管治,1898-1941年〉,探討殖民政府租借新界後,將其中一部份(政府將之命名為「新九龍」)規劃和開發為市區的過程。香港政府並非直接套用英國及其地殖民地的城市規劃模式,而是本地的公共衛生、房地產投機、新界地契條款等問題與地產商協商,在這過程中引入各種城市規劃的實踐 

完成了碩士論文後,我開始反思,大眾只是被動地按照政府、商人設定的方式在城市空間中生活嗎?我更加希望了解城市居民的生活經驗、個體在歷史中的角色。我在草擬博士研究計劃初時,曾構想研究二十世紀初唐樓住客的生活史,但逐漸注意到當時香港底層居民的流動性——他們從不同地方前來香港謀生,又因各種原因而留下或離去,在香港居住只佔他們生命的一部份。我希望闡明香港的城市生活與移民經驗的關係,因此逐漸訂定目前的研究計劃,暫名為〈在殖民地港口尋覓家園:香港華工的遷移與定居,約1900-1941年〉。在這研究中,我會關注勞工階層移民在港口城市居住、工作、跨境遷移等日常生活的經驗,以及殖民政府及公眾如何討論或處理相關的問題。除了種族、階級之分以外,分別本地人與暫居者的觀念,都使這些討論更形複雜;面對這些話語和實踐上的區分,底層移民處於一種無法安頓下來的狀態,亦以遷移為他們的生存策略 

為了追尋底層移民的經歷、政府和本地社會如何看待他們,我會考察多種不同的資料。除了透過殖民地檔案了解官員的想法和決策過程、政府和平民的互動之外,我亦會運用報紙雜誌重構普通人的生活,其中特別留意各種案件的報導。在這些案件中,普通人因犯大小罪行而被捕、檢控,同時亦在警察或法庭的審訊下留下了有關他們的思想、行動的文字記錄(儘管這些記錄多以審訊者的觀點記載)。文字記載以外,我亦會考察舊照片中的城市環境及生活細節。 

關注工人的流動性有助我們理解工人階層與香港這座城市的複雜關係。像世界各地的港口城市,香港因全球貿易增長而崛起,吸引不同地方的人前來尋找機會,使本地人與外來人的界線持續變動。對於二次世界大戰前來到香港的工人,我們一般認為他們只是過客,以中國大陸為家(更準確地說,以華南地區的農村為家),在香港暫居和工作後便回鄉老死。這樣的說法強調他們必然會回到家鄉,忽略了在香港的際遇如何影響他們的去留、他們如何作出選擇。面對殖民地的權力關係造成的種種不平等,在香港生活的人曾採取的不同策略掙扎求存。 

回到當下,不少香港人移居外地,更頻繁地往返不同地方。具體的歷史脈絡不盡相同,但香港居民的流動性卻是古今相通的。我希望我的研究能促進理解不同歷史時空移民的經驗,思考其中面對的機會和限制。 

2ND WORKSHOP OF EARLY CAREER SCHOLARS ON HONG KONG HISTORY

On 26th October, we had our second meeting of Network of Early Career Scholars on Hong Kong History. An 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 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.

You can find the abstract of the presentation here.

Nathanial LAi in 2nd workshop of early career scholars on Hong Kong. Clara Cheung in 2nd workshop of early career scholars on Hong Kong. Allan Pang in 2nd workshop of early career scholars on Hong Kong. Doris Chan in 2nd workshop of early career scholars on Hong Kong. Group photo of 2nd workshop of early career scholars on Hong Kong.

It is always great to meet new friends and exchange ideas. We intend to meet regularly and if you are based in the UK and want to be part of this network, Please write to Prof. Ray Yep, Research Director of Hong Kong History Centre, at rekmy@bristol.ac.uk. The next meeting will probably be in late February or March. 

Job opening: Research Associate x2 – Digital Humanities and Oral History

Closing Date: 28 Nov 2023

We are seeking to appoint two Research Associates to support the Centre’s research in the history of nineteenth and twentieth century Hong Kong. Established in 2022, this new globally recognised hub for the study of Hong Kong, not only promotes and increases the international profile of Hong Kong history as a scholarly field, but also nurtures and invests in emerging talent in the field. It facilitates public engagement and outreach to raise public awareness of the history of the city and its global relations, and has launched a Hong Kong Historical Archives initiative, actively building a visual and textual archival collection of material relating to the history of the city.

The postholders will be core members of this exciting new initiative. One will bring oral history experience and skills to the Centre, and the other will undertake digital humanities research.

Details:
https://tinyurl.com/hkhcjobs2023

Introducing Phyllis Chan

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

A Early Career Scholar Network was created under the Hong Kong History Centre in June 2023. It intends 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 attending these sessions.

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

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In this post, we would like to introduce Phyllis Chan, a member of the Network.

Phyllis Chan is a PhD student in Bristol. In the note written by her below, she shares with us her reflections on her academic journey and current project on nationality and identity. This Chinese version is translated by the Centre staff. 

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As cliché as it is, I have been interested in history as far as I can remember. The obsession started with mummification practices in Ancient Egypt (which was a bit too morbid for my grandparents) and continued through school, where it was always my favourite subject. I then went up to Cambridge to read history. I developed a real fascination of the construction of race, identity, and empire while earning my BA.

Photo of Phyllis ChanIn my third year I intended to write my dissertation on the rehabilitation of concentration camp victims in Central Europe, but my Director of Studies rather bluntly told me I did not have the requisite languages required. It was then I started to look closer to home, and ended up writing on ‘The ‘Eurasian’ in the British Far East, 1930-1950’, comparing the historic communities of Eurasians in Hong Kong and in Singapore. I had initially become interested in this subject when attempting to write a novel. When researching my thesis I began to move away from an interest in writing fiction to writing history because I realised that the maxim ’truth is stranger than fiction’ had a lot of resonance. Uncovering and presenting the stories of real people is a different kind of challenge to inventing plausible ones, but it’s something that eventually attracted me more.

In looking at the lived experiences of being of mixed-race Eurasian descent, I found many instances of discrepancies between state perceptions, and people’s own views of themselves (whether by the British or the Japanese). As an example of how perceptions can vary wildly, I once found in a war crimes investigation in which three different statements described one woman as ‘European’, ‘Chinese’, and ‘Eurasian’. This one example really condensed the reality of race as a volatile, constructed category, and so dependent on the similarly unstable perception of what people look like, or are meant to look like. I further explored this pattern in my MPhil thesis on the colonial census in Hong Kong and the Straits Settlements between 1880 and 1941.

The experience of empire and cosmopolitanism in Hong Kong had a very real impact on the way people saw and presented themselves. While previously I focused on the former (i.e. self-identity), I am looking more closely at the latter for my doctoral studies. This is due to an issue I had previously ran into in my research. Ordinary people in Hong Kong around the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries rarely left accessible writing on the nuances of how they felt about their identities. What they did leave, however, are their imprints on surviving British colonial documents.

In my project, ‘Ambiguous Nationality: British Subjects of Chinese Descent, 1879-c.1960’, I investigate the reasons for and ways in which individuals from Hong Kong of Chinese descent claimed British nationality. While in theory English common law gave all subjects born within British territories equal legal footing and rights of mobility across the empire, this was not true in reality. Many such subjects had to assert their rights to sceptical colonial officials, and controversial cases often involved consular officials across China as well as the Colonial and Foreign Office in London.

A severely decayed set of documents.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The materials I will use in my project are predominantly colonial official correspondence referring to cases of ambiguous nationality. In the early part of the period (1880s to 1920s) these were usually to do with ethnic Chinese attempting to claim extraterritoriality in the treaty ports. Later, cases were more varied, as more people sought to apply for passports to travel abroad. The postwar period especially saw a range as border controls were instituted between Hong Kong and the mainland. I aim to analyse these cases in a way that uncovers the agency of the individuals concerned, and the ways they articulated their claims. I will contrast this with the official logic and biases of the government to unpack the tensions at hand. 

Today we live in the age of the nation-state, where most people live in a state in which the main criteria for membership is being part of a certain nation. This is so normalised that we forget that, as John Darwin has pointed out, this is a relatively short-term trend in human history. Before the Second World War many people lived in multiethnic empires, where their citizenship did not necessarily correspond to their nationality – even if they had a sense of what ’nation’ actually was. Today, nationality is rarely ambiguous, and many countries cooperate internationally to prevent what is known as ’statelessness’. This was not the case in the period I am looking at. 

With a growing number of Hong Kongers moving to the UK under the BNO visa, there has been an increase in interest in the history of Hong Kong, its people, and British nationality. I hope that my research will encourage people to think of nationality and citizenship as less binary and one-dimensional as they may seem.

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雖然有點陳詞濫調,但從我有記憶開始我就對歷史感興趣。這種情迷始於對古埃及木乃伊製作方法的探究(這對我的祖父母來說有點過於恐怖),並一直持續到上學,歷史總是我最喜歡的科目。後來我去了劍橋大學讀歷史在獲得學士學位的過程,我對種族、身份和帝國建構的深深著迷

在學士第三年,我原本打算寫關於中歐集中營受害者的康復但我的研究指導相當直接地告訴我,我缺乏所需的語言能力。於是,我開始更仔細地研究自己的家鄉,最終寫了名為《英國遠東的歐亞混血兒」,1930-1950》的論文,比較香港和新加坡歷史上的歐亞混血兒社區。我最初對這個主題感興趣是在嘗試寫小說的時候在研究論文時,我開始從寫小說的興趣轉向寫歷史,因為「真實比虛構更奇幻」(Truth is stranger than fiction) 這句話對我來說太有共鳴。揭示和呈現真實人物的故事與創造合情理的故事是截然不同的挑戰,但最終歷史更吸引我

在研究混血歐亞裔生活經歷時我發現許多時候國家視野與人們如何看待自己之間有不少差異(無論是英國還是日本政府的觀點)。舉一個國家視野大幅差異的例子,我曾在一份戰爭罪行的調查中找到三種不同的陳述,分別將一名女性描述為「歐洲人」、「中國人」和「歐亞混血兒」。這個例子真實地凝煉了種族作為一個不穩定、建構類別的現實,而且這取決於同樣不穩定,關於人們外貌如何或外貌應該如何的觀念。我在我的碩士論文進一步探討這種模式,研究了1880年至1941年間香港和海峽殖民地的殖民地人口普查

香港的帝國和國際經驗對人們看待和呈現自己的方式產生非常實在的影響。雖然之前我專注於前者(即自我認同),但在博士研究,我更仔細地研究後者。這源自於我在過往研究中遇到的問題。十九世紀末和二十世紀初的普羅香港人很少留下他們對自己身份微妙感受,而又可供查閱的文字記錄。他們留下的,是在流傳下來英國殖民地文件上的印記 

在我的研究計劃——模糊的國籍:中國裔的英籍人士,1879年至大約1960年》,我調查了來自香港的中國裔聲請英國國籍的原因和方法。儘管理論上英國普通法賦予在英國領土內出生的所有人民平等的法律地位和在帝國範圍內的流動權,但實際上並非如此。許多這樣的人民必須向懷疑他們的殖民官員主張自己的權利,而具爭議性的案例通常涉及中國各地的領事官員和倫敦的殖民地及外交部。

我的計劃將主要使用殖民地官方往來通信,這些通信涉及模糊國籍的案例。在這段時間早期(1880年代至1920年代),這些案例通常涉及中國族裔試圖在條約港口聲請治外法權。後來,案例變得多樣,因為更多人嘗試申請護照出國旅行。戰後時期明顯更多這些案例,因為香港和中國大陸之間實行邊境管制。我打算分析這些案例,揭示個體的能動性以及他們表達主張的方式將其與政府的官方邏輯和偏見對照,去理解兩者的緊張關係。

今天我們活在民族國家的時代,大多數人生活在一個必須成為某個民族才得以被視為成員的國家裏。這已經成為常態,以至我們忘記了,正如John Darwin指出,這在人類歷史裏是個相當短暫的趨勢。在第二次世界大戰前,許多人生活在多民族帝國中,他們的公民身份不一定對應到他們的民族身份——即使他們大概也對民族國家有一定理解。今天,國籍很少會模稜兩可,只且許多國家也在國際間合作,以防止所謂的「無國籍狀態」。但在我研究的時期卻並非如此。

隨著越來越多香港人透過BNO簽證移居英國,人們對香港歷史、香港人以及英國國籍的興趣也愈來愈大。我希望我的研究能鼓勵人們減少以看起來理所當然的二元和單向角度視考國籍與公民身份的問題。

1st Workshop of Early Career Scholars on Hong Kong History

On 8 June, we celebrated the launch of our Network of Early Career Scholars on Hong Kong History, with the first meeting held in Bristol. We were well fed with great ideas from inspiring presentations by Patrick Hao (University of Oxford) delving into Sino-British relations and democratization in late colonial Hong Kong; Gary Wong (University of Leeds) introducing how Hong Kong was being exhibited at the British Empire Exhibition in Wembley, London, 1924-1925; and Gray Sergeant (London School of Economics and Political Science) who is investigating the Hong Kong Working Group and the Making of an Anglo-American Misunderstanding, 1957 – 1961. Florence Mok (Nanyang Technological University) zoomed in to share her experiences of developing her doctoral work into a book.  

You can find the abstract of the presentation here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is always great to meet new friends and exchange ideas. We intend to meet regularly and if you are based in the UK and want to be part of this network, please contact us at hkhistory-centre@bristol.ac.uk. The next meeting will be in October. 

News round-up: Summer 2023

Welcome to the Hong Kong History Centre’s quarterly round-up.

We are thrilled to have more colleagues joining our Centre. We’re delighted to be able to welcome Maria Korea to the role of Centre Manager, with a Project Archivist in the Library Special Collections, and Sam Brenton who has joined as Digital Archives Assistant. We’ll be providing a fuller introduction to the archives team in a future issue, together with news about that strand of our work. And more appointments will be being made in the next few months. 

On 8 June, we celebrated the launch of our Network of Early Career Scholars on Hong Kong History, with the first meeting held in Bristol. We were well fed with great ideas from inspiring presentations by Patrick Hao (University of Oxford) delving into Sino-British relations and democratization in late colonial Hong Kong; Gary Wong (University of Leeds) introducing how Hong Kong was being exhibited at the British Empire Exhibition in Wembley, London, 1924-1925; and Gray Sergeant (London School of Economics and Political Science) who is investigating the Hong Kong Working Group and the Making of an Anglo-American Misunderstanding, 1957 – 1961. Florence Mok (Nanyang Technological University) zoomed in to share her experiences of developing her doctoral work into a book.    

 

 

 

 

 

 

It is always great to meet new friends and exchange ideas. We intend to meet regularly and if you are based in the UK and want to be part of this network, please contact us at hkhistory-centre@bristol.ac.uk. The next meeting will be in October. 

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On 1 September, we are honoured to have Japanese scholars visiting our centre. The team, led by Professor Toru Kurata (Rikkyo University), included Masakazu Matsuoka (Ohtsuki City College), Akiko Kurata (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies), Shingo Kobori (Nagoya University of Foreign Studies), Kota Sasha Oguri (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies), and Airin Yamada (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies), and they shared with us the past, present and future of​ Hong Kong Studies in Japan. We exchanged fruitful thoughts on the current landscape of the subject, and explored the possibility of future collaborations. We hope to meet and learn from colleagues around the world, and together we thrive the research community. ​ 

Japanese Delegates visiting HKHC.

 

 

 

 

 

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In the same month our directors have started the trip in Hong Kong. On 16 September, our team organized the first Hong Kong History Day. With the help of Society for Hong Kong Studies (SHKS), we co-hosted the event, more than 150 participants showed up. It was a day or reconnection, networking, and most importantly having dialogues and discussion on Hong Kong History. The event featured four panels covering various topics of Hong Kong history: archives building, study of history of art and entertainment, history education and Hong Kong in the 1970s. With lots of great and passionate people concerning and being interested on Hong Kong History and Studies in general, there are rich and diverse things we can still do on Hong Kong. 

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On 19 September, our directors attended a University of Bristol Hong Kong Alumni reception in the China Club Hong Kong. We were pleased to share the latest exciting updates of the establishment of Bristol’s Hong Kong History Centre, the world’s first research centre focusing on the study of Hong Kong History. This was a great opportunity to catch up with new and old friends in the Bristol family overseas. 

 

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On the next day, 20 September, the Centre’s co-director, Vivian Kong had her first book talk for the Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong at Cafe 8, Roof, Hong Kong Maritime Museum, on her upcoming book Multiracial Britishness: Global Networks in Hong Kong, 1910–45. Asking what does it mean to be British, Vivian provided some reflections through an under-explored site of Britishness – the former British colony of Hong Kong. 

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We concluded our tour in Hong Kong with a full-house community film screening, co-organized with SHKS. On 24 September, 尚未完場 To Be Continued was screened and followed by a Q&A session with the directors. This evocative documentary is a deep dive into the forgotten legend of Harry Odell, Hong Kong’s first impresario.

We hope to see everyone next year! 

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We have a lot more happening in this new academic year, so please stay tuned and follow us! 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.