Generalising Eurasians in Hong Kong

Continuing their espousal of the Eurasian ‘problem’, two authors writing in 1955, Thompson & Adloff, lament the small size of Eurasian communities and their lack of cohesion which leaves them in a weak bargaining position; despite being stable and smart, unity and strength has remained elusive to the group as a whole. The only answer available to these Eurasians is to integrate locally as quickly as possible, they wrote.

Thompson & Adloff then take a closer look at the legal, educational, professional and social position of Eurasians in South East Asia.

For example, laws of 1854 and 1892 in the Dutch East Indies allowed all descendants of Europeans on the father’s side to be legally classified as Europeans. This opened up educational prospects and thus access to higher levels of economic and social achievement. Before World War Two, the heads of four of the eight government departments and the commander in chief of the army were all Indo-Europeans. In 1912 an Indo-European League was formed. The Hague Agreement of August 1949 gave Eurasians (estimated to number about 100,000) two years in which to make up their mind about whether to stay in now independent Indonesia or go to the Netherlands. A government survey commissioned by the Netherlands in 1952 concluded, among other points, that it was inadvisable to bring uneducated, poorer Eurasians out of Indonesia; however, the Dutch government would provide aid to this majority of people advised to stay put.

Brief surveys follow, of Eurasians in Malaya, Burma/Myanmar, the Arakan States (of now Burma/Myanmar), the Malays of South Thailand, and the Ambonese (of Indonesia). In Malaya, despite widespread prejudice, some Eurasians became distinguished lawyers, engineers and journalists; many of the late 19th century Queen’s Scholarships went to Eurasians. Between the two world wars, Eurasians were present on Singapore’s Legislative Council (as they were in Hong Kong). ‘Their social status, however, did not show an analogous improvement, though the Eurasians clung to their British names, spoke English as their mother tongue, and were practically all Christians’.

The point for students of Hong Kong history is — how did the situation for Eurasians in Hong Kong compare?

No parallel to the Dutch laws of 1854 and 1892 are apparent in Hong Kong. It seems there was no clear delineation in law regarding educational, medical and other legal rights for Eurasians in Hong Kong, despite a range of social limitations, prejudices and practices. (Any corrections to this statement would be gratefully received!)

A detailed legal survey simply of this question would be a large contribution to scholarship on Eurasians in Hong Kong. A second step would be a detailed survey of the colonial papers (CO129) for any reference to Eurasians, any studies or social surveys or commissions related to their existence.

Other topics for comparison would include military service: Thompson & Adloff note how Eurasians constantly joined volunteer military detachments, in Malaya, in Singapore, (and, as we know, in Hong Kong). But in Singapore the Eurasian company was disbanded in 1909 (after only eight years) and permission to re-form was a long time coming. After World War Two, Eurasians in Singapore and Malaya agitated to join the British Army and, once in, found they were paid less than their European counterparts. Points of comparison are obvious there. Random memoirs and specific war histories have paid well-deserved tribute to particular groups of Eurasians who identified so strongly with then-British Hong Kong that they laid down their lives to defend it. A systematic comparison with their formation, their actions and their standing in Hong Kong compared to other British colonies would however be illuminating.

Another topic is efforts by Eurasians to organise themselves. Recreational groups were plentiful, but a Eurasian Review, started in Penang in the 1930s lasted only about a decade. That is a decade more than anything comparable in Hong Kong however. There was even an All-Malayan Eurasian Conference held in 1940. Individual Eurasians continued to achieve prominence and public responsibility after World War Two. But Thompson & Adloff’s primary point throughout is that as a community, the Eurasians of South East Asia had to assimilate locally or be doomed.

That seems like another good subject for comparison with Hong Kong, and an interesting assumption of the 1950s to test against the realities of today.

Thompson, Virginia, and Adloff, Richard. Minority Problems in Southeast Asia. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1955.  (Chapter 3: Indigenous Minorities – The Eurasians.)

Generalising Eurasians in Asia

By Vaudine England

Looking at how other colonies’ histories have tackled the topic of Eurasians gives useful clues to how researchers might tackle Hong Kong’s Eurasians.

An early effort looking at South East Asia was Virginia Thompson and Richard Adloff’s Minority Problems in Southeast Asia, of 1955. This states baldly that all Eurasians under colonial rule ‘have faced the same handicaps, reacted to them in identical fashion, and displayed similar communal characteristics’ (p. 135). Can such a sweeping statement be true? It goes on to say that all Eurasians are city dwellers and white-collar workers. As a group, they have been ‘snubbed’ ‘and only a handful among them has been able to surmount the obstacles which the color bar has placed in their way’ (p. 135). The authors place the ‘irresponsibility of their European fathers’ alongside the barriers erected by the European community as a whole  as the major impediments to Eurasian advancement. Those barriers were real, with some jobs, residential areas, schools, clubs, even hotels closed to them.

Of course these authors were writing in 1955, the year that the Non-Aligned Movement first met in Bandung, Indonesia, when the issues of post-colonisation were of pressing daily importance across South East Asia. As is often the case in scholarship about Eurasians, the focus is largely on the sprawling Dutch East Indies, and on the impact of the diaspora from a crumbling China. Those major historical forces, with ramifications around us to this day, have their echo in Hong Kong of course, but can also be useful to highlight what makes the Hong Kong situation unique.

Still, in Thompson & Adloff, here are too many generalisations. Another one on offer is the allegedly striking contrast between the product of an (Overseas) Chinese father and a native Malay/Indonesia/Burmese, which they judge as most likely to be successful, and the product of a European and native mother which they judge to be invariably less successful. Apparently the injection of Chinese other-ness brought a physical stamina and pride in heritage to the mix, unavailable to offspring of European fathers!

Overall, Thompson & Adloff paint a somewhat tragic picture of a people forever stuck in between. Above them in social and financial status are the Europeans with whom they identify; below them are the ‘native’ Asians whom they allegedly despise: ‘While they have received less from the Europeans than they feel is their due, they have enjoyed in Asian eyes a privileged position as regards employment and standard of living’ (p. 136).

However, the survey marks key changes affecting Eurasian communities of South East Asia. Prior to World War Two they retained a privileged role as often the only (half) native people who had become proficient in the European colonialist’s language (Dutch, English, Portuguese, French). They could thus take higher positions in the colonial bureaucracies and business worlds. They mostly identified as Europeans and were strongly loyal to the European power even though they knew they would never have equality with wholly European friends and colleagues. During the war, those Eurasians identifying or identified as European suffered disproportionately at the hands of the Japanese across South East Asia.

As empires fell, through war and decolonisation, the privileged position enjoyed pre-war now evaporated. Unless they had worked to maintain fluency in local languages and norms, they lost out in the brave new post-colonial tropical world. They then faced invidious choices – to stay or go; and if to go, then where? Often the dream was the European ‘homeland’ which they had never seen; only the Netherlands offered any kind of assistance to their Eurasians, the Indos, with many others left in limbo. Wrote Thompson & Adloff: ‘the Eurasians are a rootless, frustrated, and divided minority — foreigners in the land of their birth, yet unable to move elsewhere’ (p. 136).

Reference is made to the idea of a homeland for Eurasians, such as the Jews found in Israel. This may sound very odd to a modern ear, but an attempt was made by Indonesian Eurasians (or ‘Indos’) to settle in New Guinea, on the far eastern edge of Indonesia. This apparently failed due to lack of agricultural skills and finance. Others thought of migrating to Brazil.

How much do these generalisations, experiences and ideas apply to the specific experience of the Eurasians of Hong Kong?

Thompson, Virginia, and Adloff, Richard. Minority Problems in Southeast Asia. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1955.  See: Chapter 3 – ‘Indigenous Minorities – The Eurasians’.

East Meets West: Where Do Eurasians Come From?

By Vaudine England

For a place which has so often been so eulogised for being such a marvellous meeting of East and West, the detail of the most intimate connections between east and west is surprisingly uncovered. Fiction has largely carried the burden of revealing aspects of the Eurasian existence. Richard Mason’s The World of Suzy Wong is the obvious example, and Han Suyin’s Love Is a Many-Splendoured Thing. But where are the histories of Hong Kong’s real Eurasians?

Several important family memoirs have been produced. Peter Hall, the former company secretary of Hongkong Land took this furthest with his In the Web, followed by Eric Peter Ho’s Tracing my Children’s Lineage. Irene Cheng and Jean Gittins both wrote family memoirs. Vicky Lee has investigated the writings of three Eurasian women and reflected on what it means to be Eurasian. These are all interesting works, but none can be called a history of the Eurasians of Hong Kong. So far, just one thesis has been done on the subject – back in 1975! This was Stephen Fisher’s survey of Eurasians as a marginal group. He is more sociological than historical and of course time has passed. Many more family papers are now, hopefully, available for consultation by serious researchers. With, too, the diminishing stigma attached to being of mixed race, it is hoped more will feel able to talk about and discover more Eurasian history.

In the meantime, where could one begin to consider such a history? Defining the word might help. Dictionaries cite its earliest use from India in the late 18th century and early 19th centuries; many of the same dictionaries say it now refers more to American-Asian than to European-Asian mixtures. In Hong Kong parlance, it can also refer to the mixture of two different Asian races, such as the Kotewall family which was a mixture of Parsee and Chinese.

In Britain’s Indian empire, confusingly, it was the British who had lived a long time in India, often generations, who proudly called themselves Anglo-Indians, and so this term was not available for use by literally mixed race Anglo-Indians until permission was granted in the early 20th century. Instead, they were called ‘half-castes’, ‘East-Indians’, ‘Indo-Britons’ and ‘Eurasians’. Richard Symonds, in his Eurasians Under British Rule, divided the history of Eurasians in India into three periods: until about 1785 they were able to assimilate with the British and suffered no discrimination; from the 1790s to 1835 they were excluded from government service as either British or Indians; from 1835 until the end of British rule there in 1947 they were seen as Indian for purposes of employment but British in terms of education and defence, employed mostly in intermediate positions in central government services, the railways, telegraphs and customs.

Symonds refers to the sole comparative study made of people of mixed race under the British and other empires, namely Half Caste, by Cedric Dover, published in 1937. This was an angry polemic by an Anglo-Indian biologist and entomologist of Calcutta, written partly to combat then-current fascist theories of race. A vast literature exists on the mixed race people of the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). There is almost nothing about mixed race people under British rule, in all its variations.

Symonds also makes important points about how the caste of Indian women marrying East India Company men was replaced with their husband’s standing in the company. This meant that some Eurasian offspring married British aristocracy; mixed blood trails can be traced into the prime minister’s office on three occasions. In Calcutta, an Upper Orphanage was established for the Eurasian children of British officers and a Lower Orphanage for those of other ranks. But later restrictions on offspring from the orphanages against gaining higher education in Britain radically affected their chances of employment.

The early 20th century was perhaps the worst time to be Eurasian in India, writes Symonds. A new moralism decreed mixed race children to be the product of ‘vice’; in practical terms, doors to education and employment were successively closed. These Eurasians looked with envy across to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) where the Burghers, as Eurasians were called, were much more integrated with the Dutch. A foreshadowing of British talk during Hong Kong’s 1922-25 strikes and boycotts — when support from the local elite’s Eurasian leaders was needed to restore stability — is heard in the 1810 wish of the British in Ceylon to conciliate the Burghers as much as possible in order to consolidate British rule.

Attitudes towards Eurasians were contingent upon time and place; categories and definitions were neither fixed nor certain. The British might have been peculiar in the hedging about of their mixed race subjects with varying restrictions over time. As Symonds notes: ‘It is interesting that the British, themselves hybrids, should have placed so much emphasis on race in the style of rule’, (p 41).

One theme here which emerges across any historical survey of race in empire is that of how ideas about it changed during the course of empire. In those rampant early days of explorers and swashbuckling entrepreneurs, cohabiting, if not marrying and starting families, with local women was considered the ideal way to move in on a new society. Portuguese, Dutch, French and British all enthusiastically engaged with the local populations they intended to trade with, convert or exploit. Divisions and the breaking into hierarchies involving race as well as religion and class, seemed to come when government bureaucracies became more involved in the colonial enterprise in the mid-19th century onwards. As any reader of Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities can cite, the emergence of nationalism as an idea from the late 19th century on would dramatically affect notions of self and harden divisions along ethnic and other lines.

To my mind this must give cause to consider so many post-colonial blanket assumptions. That the British empire was founded on racism, for example, could do with some re-examination. Given the wide variations between colonies within that empire (in their founding, construction, management and much more), it seems logical that the role of race and thus the place of Eurasians within each colony might also differ markedly. That we even know now what people meant about race then, and which ‘then’ we are talking about, are also assumptions that need testing. Definitions we impose now may not have been how people saw themselves then. Nor are all modern ideas about race and tolerance necessarily the most advanced or progressive ideas over time.


Allen N.J., Gombrich, R.F., Raychaudhuri, T., and G. Rizvi (gen. eds). Oxford University Papers on India, Volume I, Part 2. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987. Chapter 3: Eurasians Under British Rule, by Richard Symonds, pp 28-42.

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Rev. ed. London: Verso Books, 1991.

Cheng, Irene. Clara Ho Tung: A Hong Kong Lady, Her Family and Her Times. Hong Kong: Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1976.

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

Gittins, Jean (Hotung). Stanley: Behind Barbed Wire. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1982.

Hall, Peter. In the Web. Wirral: Hurst Village Publishing, 1992 (2012).

Hall, Peter. In the Web. Birkenhead: Apprin Press, 2012 (earlier editions 1992, 1993).

Han Suyin. Love Is a Many-Splendoured Thing. London: Jonathan Cape, 1952.

Ho, Eric Peter. Tracing My Children’s Lineage. Hong Kong: Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Hong Kong, 2010.

Ho, Eric Peter. ‘The Welfare League, The Sixty Years 1930-1990’. A pamphlet held by HKU Library Special Collections (HKP 361.763 W46 zH). The Welfare League was formed specifically to provide aid and welfare to Hong Kong’s Eurasians and was thus a first public statement of the existence of a mixed race community.

Lee, Vicky. Being Eurasian: Memories Across Racial Divides. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2004 (also, her PhD HKU 2001).

Mason, Richard. The World of Suzy Wong. London: Collins, 1957.

Race Memory Puzzles in China, Japan War Histories

By Vaudine England

This week (on 3 September) the Chinese government has decreed a special one-off public holiday (and vast military parade) to mark what it calls China’s victory over Japan 70 years ago. As with all anniversaries, a plethora of frantic re-writings of history is now underway to mark this moment. One can debate if it really was China or the impact of Hiroshima that defeated Japan, and the argument over whether it was China’s communists or nationalists who fought most, suffered more, are most responsible for the victory, will rumble on.

This blog looks back at a supposed racial impact of the war, specifically of the ignominious defeat of the British followed by Japan’s occupation of Hong Kong. Both then, and more recently, the view has been expressed that Japan’s appeal to the Asian populace for the overthrow of Western imperialism was attractive, and encouraged versions of collaboration among particularly Eurasian as well as Chinese Hong Kongers.

A gentle look at the first point comes in Asia for the Asiatics, by Robert Ward, published by the University of Chicago Press just before the war ended. Ward had been a consular officer for the United States, stationed in Hong Kong, and was interned for six months before being repatriated. He witnessed the early efforts of the Japanese to establish an empire in Asia ‘for the Asiatics’.

This was, according to Ward, a calculated, brutal and systematic process, of which the initial outbursts of rampant disorder, rape and looting was an integral part. Ward claims this had the effect (and so Ward assumes the intention) of forcing the local Hong Kong elite into submission. Leading figures such as Shouson Chow and Robert Kotewall, members of the Li (Bank of East Asia) family, and others did consent to take roles in committees set up by the occupying Japanese powers. No doubt they did so for self-preservation but it is also on record that departing British senior civil servants had specifically asked Chow and Kotewall to deal with the Japanese to help feed the people.

Ward’s primary concern was to consider what the post-war landscape will be in East Asia, after this idea of Asia for Asians has taken hold. Writing in 1945, he doubted that the brutality and subjection imposed by the Japanese would entirely neutralise the power of the pro-Asia ideal.

The overwhelming fact for many writers, then and since, has been the shaming collapse of the white man, of white power, seen in Japan’s rapid takeover not just of Hong Kong, but other British colonies such as Malaya, Singapore and Burma. These defeats would leave a residue, the impact of which would change post-war Asia forever.

All this was true, of course, but it is interesting to examine now the extent to which the collapse of British military power in the East did Not mean an end to British rule in Hong Kong, nor to Western impact and roles in East Asia’s post-war development. It is also interesting to note that, according to many Hong Kong people’s recollections, the brutality of Japanese rule did in fact fatally damage that ideal of Japan-led Asia for the Asians.

Perhaps race was simply less of a defining characteristic for people struggling to survive than some theorists would accept.

A more dramatic version of the view that colonial racism met its nemesis with the Japanese can be found in Gerald Horne’s Race War! White Supremacy and the Japanese Attack on the British Empire, published in 2005 by New York University Press. Amusingly, reviews from the United States academic community laud this book as a radical retelling of the war, an unflinching survey of race and empire, and a fabulous study which shows where global history can go. At the same time, a detailed, calm and considered blog by a member of the community of people apparently so oppressed by Horne’s British colonialists — the Eurasian historian Brian Edgar — shows how full of holes the Horne thesis is.

According to Horne, the Japanese were appreciated, admired, and supported by the majority of Hong Kong’s population, at least at first, for Japan’s overturning of white supremacy. Several ideas seem to be involved here — that the British empire was founded (solely) on racism and thus that Hong Kong was too, and that British assumptions of racial superiority produced a vast and violent discriminatory universe of abuse and exploitation of the ‘non-pure’. On such ground, a fertile appeal of Japanese inversions of white rule could be imagined.

But as Brian Edgar points out, the detailed realities of daily life made Horne’s thesis ‘dead in the water’. Yes, Eurasians faced discrimination, but from the Chinese as well as from the British. Yes, some Eurasians were discriminated against at work but others were among the colony’s richest people. Edgar goes on to point out various pockets of Hong Kong life which were ‘relatively race-free’, some intellectual and some in sports; I would add most of business was multi-cultural too. But of course white racism existed — the argument is over whether this made Eurasians (and some Hong Kong Chinese) vulnerable to Japanese ideology and rule. As Edgar notes, Horne fails to cite one single Hong Kong Eurasian who was not part Japanese who can be proven to have joined the Japanese after Christmas Day 1941. On the contrary, people like the young (Eurasian) women, Phyllis Bliss and Irene Fincher escaped and Irene even married the race enemy, a British policeman who was working with the Chinese resistance. One fascinating case, Laurence Kentwell, is the subject of research by Baptist University’s Catherine Ladds, and he is an exception to every theory.

Edgar then tackles the case of Sir Robert Kotewall and laments that Horne has clearly failed to take note of British exonerations of the Executive Council member’s work under the Japanese. According to Edgar, Kotewall did shout ‘Banzai’ several times at public meetings but otherwise did little but ‘hedge’ while trying to help poor Chinese get fed. Tony Banham, author of the excellent, regards Kotewall as ‘selfless’ and the charges of collaboration unfounded.

As Edgar notes, one has to be careful about jumping to conclusions. Amid the hoopla of a Chinese Communist Party-organised exercise in creating nationalism today, it is even more interesting to discover where the historical record makes clear not a nationalist narrative, but the nuance.

Back Story to the Study of Hong Kong History

By Vaudine England

With this initiative to breathe new life into the community of historians of Hong Kong, a glance back at some earlier programmes might be useful.

An article in the Journal of the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society back in 1987 was also dedicated to something called ‘The Hong Kong History Project’. Over almost 30 pages, the journal published the transcript of a taped discussion led by James Hayes, David Faure and Patrick Hase. This described a project that ‘aims at rescuing something of the social, economic and political history of the communities of this area before 1841, and indeed right up to the eve of the modernization of the New Territories in the 1970s’. The interest was focused clearly on the New Territories, then facing unprecedented change and development, and anthropology was more the guiding discipline than history.

James Hayes spoke of the shocking neglect of Hong Kong-related scholarship, when Hong Kong was viewed as ‘no more than the railway route into Guangdong’. Already by the 1980s that was changing, he said, with the late Barbara Ward studying the boat people of Kau Sai, and Hugh Baker and Bob Groves working in Sheung Shui and Tai Po Market. Hayes himself was using his time both on and around his government day-job to tackle the communities of Sai Kung and Clearwater Bay, enlisting staff to collect inscriptions and other records of fast-disappearing rural life. David Faure picked up the theme and credited some pre-war researchers before describing his own team’s efforts to collect far-flung histories before it was too late. Patrick Hase described his focus on Shatin village life, not least because of his job as District Officer there.

These three men felt they were battling against a large wall of indifference, even scorn, from established academic institutions which they suggested regarded village life and oral history as beneath their touch. They stressed the importance of collecting what records existed – of land transactions, family genealogies and even the local guides to rural life which were often hand-written and passed down the generations. The challenges involved in these researches were immense. ‘It has taken many years of effort to convince the villagers that their own history is of value,’ said Patrick Hase. Once the value was recognised, the doctoring often began, in which past incidents were rewritten.

The basic problem was gaining public acceptance of the importance of local history and the need to preserve its raw material – even though actual study and analysis of this material was yet to come. Elizabeth Sinn was credited in the discussion for her inspiration to the Tung Wah Hospital Group to pull together its records properly – which brings us to the next phase in this story, a decade later.

Elizabeth Sinn had early on set up a Resource Centre for Hong Kong history, initially based in the history department at the University of Hong Kong (HKU). Here she collected relevant records, family papers, newspaper articles, oral history recordings and whatever else came her way to provide insight into Hong Kong’s social history. Once she moved across to the Centre of Asian Studies, still at HKU, her leadership in the field was seen in the Hong Kong Culture and Society Programme which she ran in the mid-1990s. The Centre was later absorbed by the newer Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences. But its earlier work on Hong Kong has lived on in many ways – through publications and research inspiration, and vitally through personal connections.

Elizabeth compiled a Bibliography on Hong Kong studies which was uploaded online and regularly updated, something our new project is also doing.

Elizabeth also organised what she called the Post-Graduate Symposia of 1996, 1997 and 2001. Abstracts presented at these Symposia included:

– The Making of “Women’s Voice”: Cantonese Women’s Ritual Songs in Hong Kong, by Chan Wing-hoi.
– Literacy, Lineage and Landholding: Holding and Transfer of Property in a New Territories Village, 1811-1955, by Kentaro Matsubara.
– Chinese Custom in a “Borrowed Place, Borrowed Time”, by Selina Ching Chan.
– The 19th Century Catholic Mission in Hong Kong, by Louis Ha.
– Catholic Education in Hong Kong under Decolonization, by John Tan.
– The Church as a Social Institution: Case of the London Missionary Society in Hong Kong, 1840s-1880s, by Timothy Wong.
– Interaction Between Politics and Education: Case Study of a “Patriotic School” in Hong Kong, by Lam Ka-ka.
– The Scholar-Newspaperman: a Vanishing Paradigm in Hong Kong, by Cheung Kwai-yeung.
– Cantonese Network: Social History of Modern Hong Kong, by Hiroyuki Hokari.
– Urban Grassroots: Rickshaw Pullers in Hong Kong, by Fung Chi-ming.
– Foreign Banks in Hong Kong and their Relation with Canton, 1845-1865, by Shinji Kanada.
– An Insubordinate and Semi-Barbarous People: Chinese Defendants and Criminal Justice in Early British Hong Kong, 1841-1866, by Christopher Munn.
– The Success of Low Intensity Democracy in Hong Kong, by Daniel G. Skinner.
– Chinese Business Groups in Hong Kong and Political Change in South China, 1900s-1920s, by Chung Po-yin.
– The Making of the Hong Kong Chinese Bourgeoisie: State and Society in Early Twentieth Century Hong Kong, by John M. Carroll.

– Colonial Penality – Prison and Penal Programme in Early Hong Kong, by Samson Chan.
– Report of the Police Commission 1872, by Austin Kerrigan.
– Hong Kong’s Colonial Surgeons and Their Civilizing Influence on Prison Life: 1843-1897, by Sheilah E. Hamilton.
– Negotiating Space and Identity: The Transfer Practices of Housing Property in a Chinese Lineage Village, by Chan Kwok-sing.
– The Colonial State Building in Rural Hong Kong, by Hung Ho Fung.
– Gender in Hong Kong: A Discourse Analysis of the Debate over the Women’s Inheritance in the New Territories, by Wong Kin Wai.
– Social Organization and the Emergence of Chinese Capitalism – Gongsi in Hong Kong and Shanghai in the First Half of the Twentieth Century, by Chang Wai-keung.
– Fashion Design and Fashion Designers in the Garment Industry, by Lisa Skov.
– Working Daughters in the 1990s, by Lai Pui Yim.
– Job Opportunities and Women’s Strategies of Employment and Family in Hong Kong, by May S. Partridge.
– The Popularisation of Charity in Contemporary Hong Kong and its Diffusion into South China, by Satohiro Serizawa.
– Gambling, Tax and Charity in Hong Kong; Consumerism Disguised as a Regressive way of Paying Taxes and Funding Charity? by Henning Høeg Hansen.
– The Social Well-being of Hong Kong During 1988-1995: An Index Approach, by Lai Yuk Lin.
– Father-Adolescent Conflict in Chinese Families in Hong Kong, by Sandra Tsang Kit Man.
– The Political Origins of Income Tax in Hong Kong, by Michael Littlewood.
– The Political Economy of High-Tech Industry in Hong Kong, by Paul Wong Yan-yin.

– The Construction of “Hongkongness” through the Right of Abode Issue, by Chang Jung-a.
– Interpreting the Basic Law: An Examination through the “Right of Abode” Cases, by Hiroe Noriko.
– “High Degree of Autonomy” and “Hong Kong People Ruling Hong Kong” – Public Opinion in Hong Kong Politics, by Kurata Toru.
– The Influence of Socilialization and Critical Thinking on Hong Kong University Students’ Attitudes towards China, by Gregory Fairbrother.
– A Sociolinguistic Study of a Hong Kong Chinese Community in Britain, by Sherman Lee.
– Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta Qiaoxiang, by Michael Williams.
– Inter-regional Trade, Networks and Trade Finance of British Traders in the South China Sea 1800-1860, by Patrick Mok Kin Wai.
– Re-considered Crossings: An Intercultural Report on a Visual Arts Exchange between Hong Kong and Vienna, by Norman Jackson Ford.
– Rendering in Media and Legal Translation in Hong Kong, by Dawn Tsang Fei Yue.
– Detachment in the Cultural Interaction on James Legge’s Complicated Attitude to Chinese Culture, by Zhang Wanmin.
– Food and Women’s Role in the Families with an Anorectic Daughter, by Zenobia Chan Chung Yee.
– Food, Embodiment and Female Subjectivity in the Literary Works of Xi Xi, by Li Tsui Yan.
– The Management of Women’s Bodies: Regulating Mui Tsai and Prostitutes in Hong Kong under Colonial Rule 1841-1935, by Angelina Chin Yanyan.
– All Roads Lead to Hong Kong: Martial Arts, Digital Special Effects and the Production of Transnationality in Contemporary Action Film, by Andrew Schroeder.
– Colonial Modernity – A Study of Tsui Hark’s Production and Genre Films, by Cindy Chan Shu Ching.
– The Genre Development of Science Fiction in Hong Kong Literature, by Jacky Leong Hang-tat.
– The Rise of a Sanitary City: The Colonial Formation of Hong Kong’s Early Public Housing, by Ip Iam Chong.
– Urban Regeneration in a Restructuring Executive-led Polity: A Case Study of Hong Kong, by Winnie Law Wai-Yi.
– Governance of Land Use Planning for Harbour Reclamation in Hong Kong, a Case Study of South East Kowloon Reclamation, by Penny Wan Kim Ying.
– A Distinctive Community Grasping its Forgetting Past, the History of the Rennie’s Mill Settlement, Junk Bay, Hong Kong (1907-1960), by Kenneth Lan On Wai.
– The Rise of Hong Kong as a Tourist Metropolitan: Tourism Development and Transformation of Urban Space, by Lui Chi Wai.
– Prisoners of the Californian Dream: Panic Suburbs in Hong Kong, by Laura Ruggeri.

Bringing this field right up to date, Dr Elizabeth Sinn ran a one-day workshop on 3 January 2013: “Multicultural Encounters in Hong Kong”.

The papers presented included:

1. Bert Becker (History Department, HKU), “Western Firms and Chinese Compradors: The Case of Jebsen & Co. and Chau Yue Ting”
2. Ching May Bo (History Department, Sun Yatsen University), “A Clone of Canton: the Origins of Pre-War Hong Kong Urban Culture”
3. Patricia Chiu, “The Making of Accomplished Women: English Education for Girls, 1890s-1940s”
4. Stacilee Ford, “Cathay’s New World: Transpacific flows in Hong Kong Film”
5. Peter Hamilton, “War in the ‘Jukebox Jungle'”: American GIs and Hong Kong Identity”
6. Vicky Lee, “A Minority in the Margins (1860s-1960s)”
7. Kentaro Matsubara, “Local Society, Colonial Government and the Catholic Church in the Early Administration of the New Territories”
8. Christopher Munn, “‘More Brown Than Pale’: Carvalho Yeo and the 1928 Hong Kong Treasure Swindle”
9. Yoshiko Nakano, “Japanese Ramen with a Chinese Twist: Instant Noodles and their Localization Efforts in Hong Kong”
10. David Pomfret, “‘Trouble in Fairyland’: Ministering Children and Imperial Childhoods”

Dr Sinn described the workshop as part of a larger effort to highlight the historically global nature of Hong Kong society and how such history continues to intertwine with Hong Kong present positioning as a business and cultural hub. In her words: ‘Hong Kong, for over one and a half centuries has been a space of flow for people, goods, information ideas, values and practices, a phenomenon that needs to be examined beyond the conventional “east-west” paradigm. In rewriting the history of Hong Kong, how must we seriously take into consideration the accumulated efforts and effects of interactive social groups and their diverse cultural resourcefulness? How has a Sino-centric or Anglo-centric narrative of Hong Kong prevented us from appreciating Hong Kong society as multi-ethnic, inter-racial and globally situated? How can we demonstrate the historically significant roles these individuals, families and groups have played, and give them the recognition they deserve as Hong Kong developed from a trade port at the margins of trading empires in the mid-19th century to Asia’s logistics and financial hub in the 21st?’

For the 2013 gathering, and the themes it was addressing, the cutting off point was the 1970s which, according to Professor Helen Siu, founder of the Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences, was ‘when Hong Kong underwent a process of localization which in many ways eliminated the cosmopolitanism and homogenised the local population. An inward-looking generation began to identify themselves proudly as Hong Kongers, and it seems that today, they and their children are least prepared to face challenges brought about by accelerating globalization and rapid changes in China.’

Participants were asked to rise above the making of general statements about the cosmopolitan nature of Hong Kong, and actually explore ‘the points and modes of interaction and encounters at different levels in business (finance, trade, shipping), social interactions and employment, in court rooms, school rooms, board rooms and bedrooms.’

Publication of this workshop’s contributions is forthcoming.

Hong Kong History Project – First Acts

By Vaudine England

The Hong Kong History Project, born in January 2015, has earmarked PhD funding and support to a young student from Hong Kong, Vivian Kong Wai-yan, who will take up her researches into the pre-war British community of Hong Kong under Professor Robert Bickers in the autumn.

The Project also hosted its first international workshop – a one-day gathering of a wide range of bright sparks, keen on sharing information about their studies into Hong Kong’s past. Titled “Hong Kong History, Past, Present, and Future: The View from Hong Kong”, it was a relatively unstructured programme, allowing for great collegiality and an enjoyable day. Each of the four speakers on a succession of panels were allowed only a few minutes to give a formal thought or summary of their work, before the discussion was thrown open to the floor. This format allowed for a free flow of ideas.

After introductory remarks by HKU Vice Chancellor Peter Mathieson, HKU’s Professor John Carroll, and Bristol University’s Professor Robert Bickers, the first panel, Why Hong Kong History?, was tackled by Lui Tai Lok of the Hong Kong Institute of Education, Ray Yep from City University Hong Kong, Bickers, who is director of the Hong Kong History Project, and HKU Visiting Assistant Professor Carol Tsang.

Lui spoke of the new Hong Kong Studies programme he is establishing which will fund post-doctoral fellowships and continue research into the MacLehose Years as well as allow for further work in the archives of the Society of Community Organisation (SOCO), a fascinating resource. Yep outlined the large disconnect between mainland and Hong Kong views of Hong Kong. Locally the central issue is autonomy, which could prompt more work on past relationships between the territory and its colonial metropole. Bickers admitted he had long regarded Hong Kong as a backwater, being more seduced by the cosmopolitan delights of historical Shanghai. However, he was now revising his opinions. Carol Tsang is teaching history at HKU and was able to show through graphs how the focus of her students had been profoundly influenced by the Umbrella Movement of last October, just as the Tiananmen movement of 1989 had long provided a topic of research.

The second panel’s topic was Hong Kong Communities, led by Su Lin Lewis of Bristol, Bert Becker from HKU, Cathy Ladds of Hong Kong Baptist University, and Vivian Kong of HKU (heading to Bristol).

Lewis suggested four areas for future studies in Hong Kong history: the trading diasporas of Chinese, Armenian, Jewish, Eurasians and Parsis; the development of regional intellectual networks, such as through the press, or through HKU students who returned to Malaya in the 1920s; civic associations, such as Freemasons, Rotary and others, and their links to modern civil society; and, popular entertainments. Perhaps a new task could be the hosting of a workshop on Hong Kong in Global and/or Asian History. Becker gave a fascinating insight into the German community of Hong Kong, one of the largest and most influential up until World War One. Ladds introduced her interest in the Anglo-Chinese Eurasians of the China Coast, rightly noting that the current research on Eurasians in Hong Kong is full of gaps. Kong introduced her studies on the 1940 evacuation of British women which revealed the extent to which many Britons described Hong Kong as their home.

The third panel considered the theme, ‘Global city, Imperial city’, with the help of John Wong from HKU, Mark Hampton from Lingnan University Hong Kong, Simon Potter from Bristol and Zardas Lee from HKU, soon to start her PhD at the University of North Carolina.

Wong pointed out that Hong Kong usually find its footing during times of geo-political strain and he highlighted the significance of the colony during the Cold War as another example of Hong Kong’s centrality in networks within South China, within the region, and internationally. Hampton described Hong Kong as a nation without a state and stressed the deep roots of its global role. Potter’s interests lie in international histories of broadcasting, a topic which has received little attention in the Hong Kong context despite the wealth of subjects that could be covered. Lee looked at the local consequences of the cold war and the censorship that resulted; one goal is to trace horizontal linkages, for example in the practice of censorships in Singapore compared to Hong Kong.

The fourth panel considered Hong Kong Public History, with Elizabeth Sinn, Chris Munn and Stephen Davies of HKU, and Kwong Chi Man of Baptist University.

Sinn introduced her enthusiasm for what she thinks should be a new focus: not simply on the land-based lives of Hong Kong people, but on those of the water-world. After all, she argued persuasively, Hong Kong’s existence has always been defined by its waters. Its role in local and regional fishing networks has been key, as has its usefulness to naval fleets. Whole communities across generations of distinct peoples have lived their lives and found their livelihoods on Hong Kong’s waters. Sinn highlighted the work of Wong Wai-ling on the fishing community of Aberdeen as an example of what future work could be done here. Her thoughts were soundly seconded by Davies, a maritime historian, who has long felt that this field demands far closer scrutiny and offers many important stories yet to be told. Chris Munn’s contribution was the suggestion that more must be published on Hong Kong, and more in Chinese, not just English. In this push to publish, small presses in Hong Kong could play a larger role, as can commissioned products such as his own history of the judiciary and other works funded by – and about – leading institutions, companies and clubs of Hong Kong. Kwong Chi-man, the military historian of Hong Kong, offered insights into the travails of advising museums and other public bodies on how to present Hong Kong’s history accurately. He called for more work in original sources, such a Japanese sources which he uses, and for a greater awareness among academics of the usefulness of social media, particularly in the growing public conflicts over versions of history.

The fifth and final panel, on new techniques, featured James Fellows of Lingnan, Wong Wai Ling of HKU, Michael Ng of HKU and Robert Bickers. Fellows is studying the economic discourses involved in the restriction of textile export quotas from Hong Kong. Wong’s work on the Aberdeen fishing community has involved an extensive and data-rich exercise in oral history. She has interviewed scores of fishermen and women over several years and delved deeply into their lives and the changing patterns of their business. This work has shown her that Hong Kong sits in the middle of the South China Sea – this is how the fishermen see it – not merely on the edge of China. Their focus for their livelihood is to the south, not the north and this point alone cries out for more exploration. Ng’s work involves the mapping of Hong Kong (following his similar work on Peking and Shanghai) by occupation (in his case, legal practitioners) as a way to use geography to glean larger insights into the shape of a city. This led into Bickers’ description of a project in Bristol he has been engaged with which is a public-facing mapping tool called Know Your Bristol. Members of the public can upload information about their homes or other significant locations, with digital images too, as a way to be part of public planning processes.

He concluded with the thought that the day’s mutual brain-pick had mapped out areas in which future ideas could develop. The goal, he said, was to facilitate connections and stimulate more Hong Kong histories. The next such workshop is scheduled for the autumn in Bristol.