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By Vaudine England
Thinking about race has changed over the decades and centuries, as have definitions of racism, or what constitutes a race as opposed to class, and what is class anyway. The definitional challenges multiply when gender is also considered. Modern historians are sometimes hard-pressed to understand the attitudes held by actors in colonial history. Our own often untested assumptions get in the way. These are so far removed from the thinking of those who, for example, settled in Hong Kong in the 1840s, that it is easy to castigate their actions as ‘racist’ – another word with a meaning different now to what it was then. Without excusing acts which discriminated on the basis of race or colour, such assumptions impede proper knowledge of what those men of the 1840s were thinking. Our political correctness gets in the way of comprehending their realities.
Take as one example, the Hon. C. G. Alabaster (OBE and Member of LegCo) who, amongst other things, wrote ‘Some Observations on Race Mixture in Hong Kong’. In just two pages in the Eugenics Review, he noted the difficulties in classification of racial groups, describing Eurasians before 1911 as falling into roughly three groups – Portuguese, Chinese or British. Where they fell depended on dress, education, occupation and least of all on admixtures of actual blood. After 1911, he believed, rising Chinese nationalism and the greater education of more Chinese in Hong Kong would change definitions radically, faster. That conclusion was not wrong but some of his language in getting there might repel.
The interesting point for modern students of Hong Kong history is that the subject of race has rarely been tackled in a systematic way. Other colonies and their imperial metropoles have produced reams of scholarly debate on the various racial and other groups within the colony, the treatment they received from their rulers, what rules and taboos existed that governed daily lives in often unexamined but hugely discriminatory ways, and, what was the fate of those people who crossed the taboos.
The Dutch, for example, have a rich culture of research, debate and publication on the Indos – the mixed-race or mixed-culture product of the union between Dutch and Indonesians. Scholars have looked deep into the status of ‘natives’, Europeans, and those who in some way mixed the two. One point to come clear is that race, in such contexts is not about blood. Many entirely white Dutch people became classified as ‘Indos’ for living in a ‘native’ way, speaking the local language and living with a local partner. Perceptions of a racial category often relied on things that were not racial at all, but were about language, dress, behaviour, and class.
In British empire studies, fleeting attention has been paid to non-Britishness, but largely only to Anglo-Indians. Here too, that definition includes generations of ‘white’ people who have made their life in India, whether they have actually procreated to produce mixed-blood offspring. But British scholarship has, compared to the Dutch, largely ignored their transgressors, those who are in some way what we might call “Eurasian”.
This matters in Hong Kong because there is almost no historical attention paid to what is perhaps the most important factor in making Hong Kong the cosmopolitan society it is today. If one holds that it’s the mixing that made it, that it is the conjunction of east and west in myriad forms that makes Hong Kong a distinct and special place, then this is a major gap.
As in other empires, such study requires a confrontation with past taboos, many of which are still held today, most strongly by the victims of them. While it might be fashionable today to be Eurasian – the mixed-race ‘look’ is highly prized in advertising, film and beyond – in the nineteenth century it was almost invariably a source of shame. We can generalize and say the British empire worked on assumptions of racial superiority which in turn demanded racial definitions which, born from insecurity, were far more restrictive in peripheral areas (such as Hong Kong) than Britain’s past as an open and oft-invaded populace would suggest. See the rare use of the term “Eurasian” in the India Papers referenced in Chapter 7, where the author notes that British attitudes were odd, given they themselves were hybrids. In Hong Kong, the earliest example of racial conflict within the British establishment occurred in the case of the Government Interpreter, Daniel Caldwell. He was a valuable civil servant thanks to his proficiency in Cantonese, Hindustani, Malay and more. Yet he married his Chinese wife, was friends with many Chinese (including a notorious pirate) and so was eventually disgraced ‘for being too close to the Chinese’.
Analysis of race in Hong Kong history has yet to be done and integral to it must be an attempt to define class distinctions which were often more significant. A review of literature done on other colonies helps pose some of the questions that should be asked here: what exactly were the marriage laws, the prescriptions, the taboos; who exactly benefitted/was punished by racial restrictions, or was it tougher to be a Poor White than a rich Indian; were these limits imposed by ideas of race or of class; why could all races mix happily at the Races but could not join the same recreational clubs; and where does class come in? Poor people of all races mixed closely at the raunchy bars of Taipingshan. Wealthy Parsees and other Indians mixed socially with Europeans, and the business community was racially mixed; only the top of colonial government was strictly British. Nineteenth century chroniclers talked more of ‘classes’ in Hong Kong, not ‘races’, which may be more accurate. More work is needed.
Allen, Theodore. The Invention of the White Race. London: Verso, 1994/7.
Ballantyne, Tony. Orientalism and Race: Aryanism in the British Empire. Cambridge Imperial and Post-Colonial Studies Series, Palgrave, 2001.
Part of the ‘new imperial history’ tradition of scholarship that sees colonialism as a cultural undertaking as well as a political and economic project, Ballantyne suggests the structure of British empire was like a web, with ‘vertical’ connections developing between Britain and its colonies and ‘horizontal’ connections linking various colonies directly. His writings have addressed a range of issues, including the place of race and religion in cross-cultural history. Ballantyne pursues the Orientalism of Edward Said, traces the migration of evolving concepts of ‘Aryanism’, and sees colonies as powerful intellectual frontiers, ‘where new identities and social formation’ grew from the ‘intellectual engagement and innovation’.
Ballantyne, Tony and Antoinette Burton, eds. Bodies in Contact: Rethinking Colonial Encounters in World History. Durham North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2005. An important contribution to world history, highlighting the centrality of race and gender in cross-cultural encounters.
Ballantyne, Tony. Between Colonialism and Diaspora: Sikh Cultural Formations in an Imperial World. Duke University Press, 2006.
Ballantyne, Tony. Moving Subjects: Gender, Mobility, and Intimacy in an Age of Global Empire. Co-editor. University of Illinois Press, 2007.
Ballantyne, Tony. Webs of Empire: Locating New Zealand’s Colonial Past. Wellington: Bridget Williams Books, 2012.
Bland, Lucy. ‘White Women and Men of Colour: Miscegenation Fears in Britain after the Great War’. Gender and History 17:1 (2005), 29-61.
Burton, Antoinette, ed. Gender, Sexuality and Colonial Modernities. London: Routledge, 1999.
Burton, Antoinette. Burdens of Empire: British Feminists, Indian Women and Imperial Culture 1865-1915. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994.
Bush, Julia. Edwardian Ladies and Imperial Power. Leicester: Leicester University Press, 2000.
Cannadine, David. Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire. London: Allen Lane, 2001.
Clancy-Smith, Julia and Frances Gouda, eds. Domesticating the Empire: Race, Gender and Family Life in French and Dutch Colonialism. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998.
Colley, Linda. Captives: Britain, Empire and The World 1600-1859. London: Pimlico, 2003. (See also: Colley, Linda. ‘Blueprint for Britain’. Observer, 12 December 1999).
Collingham, E.M. Imperial Bodies: The Physical Experience of the Raj c1800-1947. Polity Press, 2001. This suggests that a shift from effeminate sensual nabob to sober crown representative was akin to a movement from open to closed societies.
Darian-Smith, Kate, Patricia Grimshaw, and Stuart MacIntyre, eds. Britishness Abroad: Transnational Movements and Imperial Cultures. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2007.
Dawson, Graham. Soldier Heroes: British Adventure, Empire and the Imagining of Masculinities. London: Routledge, 1994.
Dikotter, Frank. The Discourse of Race in Modern China. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press & London: Hurst and Company, 1992.
Eley, Geoff. ‘Beneath the Skin, Or: How to Forget the Empire Without Really Trying’. Colonialism and Colonial History 3:1 (2002).
Fogel, Joshua A. ‘Race and Class in Chinese Historiography’. Modern China (July 1977) 3:3, 346-375.
Frader, Laura and Sonya Rose, eds. Gender and Class in Modern Europe. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996. Includes Laura Tabili’s ‘Women of a Very Low Type Crossing Racial Boundaries…’
Frankenberg, Ruth. White Women, Race matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness. London: Routledge, 1993. Also: her Displacing Whiteness.
Hall, Catherine and Sonya Rose. At Home With Empire: Metropolitan Society and the Imperial World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
Hall, Catherine, Keith McClelland and Jane Rendall. Defining the Victorian Nation: Class, Race, Gender and the Reform Act of 1867. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
Hall, Catherine. White, Male and Middle Class: Explorations in Feminism and History. Cambridge: Polity, 1992.
Horne, Gerald. Race War! White Supremacy and the Japanese Attack on the British Empire. New York: New York University, 2004. This argues that European racism and colonialism were deftly exploited by the Japanese to create allies among formerly colonized people of colour, turning white racism on its head. His focus, unusually, is on Hong Kong, whose war history he rewrites rather dramatically. His understanding of race is clearly born out of the American black struggle, which might lack relevance to the more nuanced and compromising set of relationships and collaborations that existed in pre-war colonial Hong Kong. He brings in Black Nationalist support of Imperial Japan, and claims connections between General Tojo, Malaysian freedom fighters, and Elijah Muhammed of the Nation of Islam. HOWEVER, a powerful riposte to many of Horne’s assumptions and ideas can be found in the blog by Brian Edgar, product of a Hong Kong Eurasian family: http://brianedgar.wordpress.com/2013/02/05/gerald-hornes-race-war-1-the-eurasians/
Huttenback, Robert, A. Racism and Empire: White Settlers and Colored Immigrants in the British Self-Governing Colonies, 1830-1910. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1976.
Kienan, V.G. The Lords of Human Kind: European Attitudes to the Outside World in the Imperial Age. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972.
Levine, Philippa. Prostitution, Race and Politics: Policing Venereal Disease in the British Empire. New York: Routledge, 2003.
Levine, Philippa, ed. Gender and Empire: Oxford History of the British Empire, Companion Volume. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Lambert, David and Alan Lester, eds. Colonial Lives across the British Empire: Imperial Careering in the Long Nineteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
Lake, Marilyn and Henry Reynolds. Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men’s Countries and the International Challenge of Racial Equality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
MacPhee, Graham and Prem Podder, eds. Empire and After: Englishness in a Postcolonial Context. Oxford: Berghahn, 2007.
McClintock, Ann. Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Context. New York: Routledge, 1994.
Mohanram, Radhika. Imperial White: Race, Diaspora and the British Empire. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.
Nicolls, David. The Lost Prime Minister: A Life of Sir Charles Dilke. London: Hambledon Press, 1995.
Philips, Richard. Sex, Politics and Empire: A Postcolonial Geography. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2006.
Pierson, Ruth Roach and Chaudhuri, Nupur, eds. Nation Empire Colony – Historicizing Gender and Race. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.
Porter, Bernard. The Absent-Minded Imperialists – Empire, Society and Culture in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Porter, Bernard. ‘Further Thoughts on Imperial Absent-Mindedness’. Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 36:1 (2008), 107-117.
Procida, Mary. Married to the Empire: Gender, Politics and Imperialism in India 1883-1947. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002.
Schwarz, Bill. Memories of Empire Vol 1: The White Man’s World. Oxford:Oxford University Press, 2011.
Stoler, Ann Laura. Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule. University of California Press, 2002.
Stoler, Ann Laura. Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault’s History of Sexuality and the Colonial Order of Things. Durham: Duke University Press, 1995.
Stoler, Ann Laura. Along the Archival Grain – Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009.
Stowe, David. ‘Uncolored People: The Rise of Whiteness Studies’. Lingua Franca (Sept/Oct 1996).
Tabili, Laura. ‘Empire Is the Enemy of Love: Edith Noor’s Progress and Other Stories’. Gender and History 17:1 (2005), 5-28.
Walkowitz, Judith. Prostitution and Victorian Society: Women, Class and the State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980.
Ware, Vron. Beyond the Pale: White Women, Racism and History. London: Verso, 1992.
Weeks, Jeffrey. Sex, Politics and Society: The Regulation of Sexuality Since 1800. London: Longman, 1981.
Wilson, Kathleen. The Island Race: Englishness, Empire and Gender in the 18th Century. New York: Routledge, 2003.
Wilson, Kathleen. A New Imperial History: Culture, Identity and Modernity in Britain and the Empire 1660-1840. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Young, Robert J.C. Colonial Desire, Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race. London: Routledge, 1995.
EARLY ‘CLASSICS’ IN THE FIELD:
Dilke, Sir Charles. Greater Britain: A Record of Travel in English-Speaking Countries During 1866 and 1867. London: Macmillan, 1868.
Dilke, Sir Charles. Problems of Greater Britain. London: Macmillan, 1890.
Volume 1 | Volume 2
Jenkins, Roy. Sir Charles Dilke: A Victorian Tragedy. London: Fontana, 1968.
Seeley, Sir John. The Expansion of England: Two Courses of Lectures. London: Macmillan, 1883.
Wormell, Deborah. Sir John Seeley and the Uses of History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Pres, 1980.
Reiss, G.A. Sir John Seeley: A Study of a Historian. Wolfboro: Longwood, 1987/1912.
Burroughs, Peter. ‘J.R. Seeley and British Imperial History’. Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 1:2 (1973), 191-211.
Froude, J.A. Oceana, or England and Her Colonies. London: Longmans Green, 1886.
Herbert Paul. The Life of Froude. London: Pitman, 1905.
Froude, J.A. Thomas Carlyle: A History of his Life in London 1834-1881. London: Longmans Green, 1884.
Volume 1 | Volume 2
Carlyle, Thomas. ‘Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question’. Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country 40 (February 1849).
Mill, John Stuart. ‘The Negro Question’. Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country 41 (Jan 1850).
Malchow, H.L. Gothic Images of Race in Nineteenth Century Britain. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996.
Lord Milner. The Nation and the Empire. London: Constable, 1913.
Marlowe, John. Milner: Apostle of Empire. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1976.
Gollin, A.M. Proconsul in British Politics: A Study of Lord Milner on Opposition and Power. London: Anthony Blond, 1960.
Owen, Roger. Lord Cromer: Victorian Imperialist, Edwardian Proconsul. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Earl of Cromner. Ancient and Modern Imperialism. New York: Longmans, 1910.
Marlowe, John. Cromer in Egypt. London: Elek Books, 1979.
Tigner, Robert. ‘Lord Cromer: Practitioner and Philosopher of Imperialism’. Journal of British Studies 2:2 (1963), 142-159.
Chamberlain, M.E. ‘Lord Cromer’s Ancient and Modern Imperialism: A Proconsular View of Empire’. Journal of British Studies, 12:1 (1972), 61-85.
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