Friday, December 30, 2005

Macanese Expelled from Japan: 1640

In 1640, in a final attempt to keep trade and communication links open with Japan, a desperate Macau sent a delegation of traders and negotiators to that country. Their previous attempts had all been rebuffed since the general massacre of the converts in the Shimabara rising in 1637 - but with the loss of their other colonies, the Portuguese port of Macau was in dire straits.

The expedition ended disastrously, with many of its members being executed and the survivors left to bring back this following unequivocal message (via Macao: Mysterious Decay and Romance, edited by Donald Pittis and Susan J. Henders):
In our country, at the beginning of the Keicho period, when the Great Lord Minamoto occupied the ruler's seat, civil and military virtues distinguished themselves side by side. The generosity and the strictness of his rule were blended in perfect harmony. Then came the four kinds of Barbarians from the four quarters surrounding our country, asking for the opening of trade and intercourse. The office for supervising foreign shipping was accordingly established at the port of Nagasaki in Hizen. Merchants of all kinds frequented this port, buying and selling, going and coming continuously. The worm-like Barbarians of Macao who had long believed in the doctrine of the Lord of Heaven, wished to propagate their evil religion in our country; and for many years they sent people called 'Bateren' [Padre] on board their own ships, or in hired Chinese ships. They did this with the intention of seducing our ignorant people, thus paving the way for the eventual occupation of our country. On account of this, the Great Lord became angry, seized the Bateren and their converts, beheaded or crucified them in great numbers, and promulgated an edict strictly prohibiting that faith. Any converts found were to be punished with the utmost severity, not only themselves, but their parents, children, and relations as well.

From that time onwards, during the reigns of the three Shoguns, uncluded the late Lord [Hidetata] and the present Lord [Iemitsu], the faith of those miscreants became more hated, and the prohibitions increased in severity. Nevertheless, on the excuse of trading, Macao continued to send more Bateren, sometimes concealing them at the bottom of Chinese merchantships hired for that purpose. Thery also disguised themselves so that they could penetrate into the interior of the provinces of this country, seducing the ignorant people by their evil arts. The Barbarian ships, too, likewise afforded them concealment and protection. Therefore they were ferreted out and caught year after year, some being thrown down the great cliffs, and others being burnt to death [the author is clearly relishing this part - Ed.]

In addition to this, in the winter of the year of the younger brother of fire and the ox [1637- Ed.] , these evil people gathered together at Shimabara in Hizen. They attacked the villages, burned the houses, and killed the people. They repaired and dug themselves in at the old castl, where their stubborn resistance could not be overcome speedily. If we had not destroyed and annihilated them as quickly as possible, their numbers would have greatly increased, and the revolt would have spread like the rebellion of Chang Lu. In the spring of the year of the elder brother of earth and the tiger [1638], the rebels were annihilated, about forty thousand being beheaded; but our own horse and foot soldiers likewise suffered bery heavy casualties in killed and wounded. The instigators of this revolt were deserving of the severest punishment, and therefore a government envoy was dispatched to Nagasaki, warning your people that they should never return to this country, and that if they did, everybody on board the ship(s) would be killed infallibly, etc. etc.

But now, in spite of this strict command, your people came again to this land under the pretence of peace negotiations, but the government officials have no proof that this is their real intention. We therefore had no alternative but to obey the existing order and could not spare their lives. We therefore destroyed the ship; arrested those on board; exposed the heads of the several chiefs except some sailors and the surgeon whose offence was not so grave in comparison with the several chiefs who were beheaded, and whom we ordered to report the facts to your country. They were therefore spared from execution, and it was arranged that they should be sent back in a small ship in order to bring this letter to Macao.

The elders of Macao and its dependencies when they hear of the foregoing facts must needs acknowledge the righteousness of our country and be impressed by the strength of our military virtue.
So the Japanese in one of their less-friendly acts of foreign relations. It does explain somewhat, though, how the psyche of Portuguese Macau may have been indelibly scarred by this incident; it certainly never attempted any similar such coups of diplomacy again in desperate circumstances, and seemed to maintain a cultural cynicism in dealing with neighboring powers that was never entirely eradicated.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Poor State of Hong Kong's Museums: 1938

A famed naturalist, G.A.C. Herklots, was asked by the Colonial Secretary of Hong Kong in 1937 to "advise upon the natre of the collections which the Colonial Museum of Hong Kong should contain and upon the accommodation which those collections are likely to require." Mr. Herklots duly complied, with a scathing report upon the fact that Hong Kong throughout most of its history had no curatorial collections worth of note, and even the small half-hearted display in the City Hall (which Chinese were restricted from visiting for about half its history, and when admission was made free, became a resting spot for coolies) was terminated when said building was demolished.

The first thing Mr. Herklots suggested was finding:
"a young man of British nationality, enthusiastic, widely qualified, with specialist knowledge in one branch, artistic, capable of using his hands and willing to learn Chinese.

(i) an honours degree of a British University, subjects studied to include at least two of the following:- Zoology, Botany, Geology, Archaeology, Anthropology, or some other approved subject.

(ii) a diploma or certificate given by the Museums Association...

The qualifications suggested above need not be rigidly enforced if a man with other qualifications and with high recommendations is available... The salary must be sufficiently attractive encourage the right type of applicant for the post...We consider that the absolute minimum commencing salary to be offered should be 450 pounds, exclusive of house allowance or house, in order to encourage the right type of applicant...

The Curator must be givent he absolute power of refusal of gifts and loans. If this is not his then quantities of un-wanted material will accumulate...."
You see, the threadbare museums of those days were often enhanced by gifts of dubious quality from dilettante collectors in the merchant class that had little comprehensive education into the qualities of fine arts or rare handicrafts.

But the most amusing thing about the report was its liberal quotation of a Museums Association report in 1933 made on request of the Carnegie Corporation:"Hong Kong, in fact, represents the low-water mark in museum provision throughout the whole of the Empire, excepting only the smaller islands of the Pacific and some of the more backward African territories."

Herklots and his collaborators expand on this more in the appendix to the report, as follows:
Mention has already been made of the fact that Hong Kong represents the low-water mark in museum provision throughout the whole of the Empire, excepting only the smaller islands of the Pacific and some of the more backward African territories, but this statement, sweeping as it is, is not sufficient to give a general idea of the museum backwardness of this Colony. It is true there was a small museum in the City Hall building which existed precariously from 1874 to 1933, but even this has now disappeared, and the Hong Kong authorities generously presented part fo the collections to a Portuguese Museum in Macao and to other institutions. In the same City Hall building there was a library consisting mainly of 19th century books in a very poor state; some of the more valuable books and many of the less valuable have been attacked by pests of all kinds, and even the recent attempt of the British Museum authorities to have proper precautionary methods taken may prove to be too late. The University, the Hong Kong Club and the Helena May Institute have libraries open to their members, and there is a fine Chinese library in the University, but apart from these there is little public library provision. When it is realised that the population of the Colony is 841,000 and its area just under 400 square miles, or three to four times that of Malta, it will be realized how lacking in certain cultural amenities is this Colony.
Well, a rather damning indictment if I may say so. In Herklot's report we have a rather candid exposition of the poor state (if not the causes) of the museum in Hong Kong. Of course this situation has been remedied - Hong Kong now has a host of museums and libraries. While the public library system is well-used though, the local museums are still under-utilized by the public and also by tourists given the major advances in scope, breadth, depth and quality.

Part of it is that the city has never been a sentimental one, and for much of its history was one that was by and for immigrants, whose true feelings of identity lay somewhere else. Certainly it was true before the War. The story of the Colony is also not likely to ever inspire patriotism, unless certain things like opium were somehow magically excised out of the annals - an impossible task.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

1874: The Year A Tiger Changed Its Stripes

Much has been made in these pages of Jardine Matheson's early role as a founder of Hong Kong, in the rather amoral context of its desire to trade opium profitably and unmolested in China. Its role is undeniable, and is a major reason why Hong Kong is the unsentimental, business-first city that it remains today, much like the character of William Jardine.

But it must be said in the firm's defense that it soon divested itself from the opium trade, concentrating more on shipping, manufacturing, property and infrastructure projects. Although one of its one-time principals, Donald Matheson, abhorred the opium trade for moral and religious reasons, it was not sentiment that made the firm leave this business. No, the reason it left what William Jardine once described as "the most gentlemanlike speculation that I know of" was because it was no longer profitable. Its profitability was damaged beyond repair once it was de facto legalized by the results of the Second Opium War. The protections afforded traders by extraterritoriality had become so great that the risk, and therefore the profit margins had declined dramatically.

But the ironies of history could not have been lost on most observers in 1874, the year that China set up customs stations near Hong Kong waters to interdict companies that smuggled goods, whether opium or otherwise, into Chinese ports. In September of that year, with a great hue and cry, the merchants of Hong Kong, mostly foreign but also some Chinese, gathered at City Hall to vent their grievances about this horrendous impediment to trade. The head of HSBC, then a Mr. Grieg, opened the session with highly bearish forecasts about the consequences of the Chinese "blockade". (How highly typical of a bank analysis!). Others followed with their own vintage vitriol.

But the one man who dissented from this popular opinion was none other than the taipan of Jardine Matheson, in that year a man named James Whittall. He cited the large amount of trade carried by his firm as proof that he knew what he was talking about, and said that he had noted no downturn in trade; to the contrary he had noticed the opposite. According to local historian Carl T. Smith in his Essays in "A Sense of History (Part II)", he said that "trade had improved after some sluggishness, and was as large as it had ever been." He had also said that "China had every right to levy and collect duties on cargoes." He then bluntly pointed out that the main problem for Hong Kong was that a great many merchants in the city "smuggled". When drawing attention to a junk that had been seized by Chinese authorities (with Hong Kong Chinese merchants claiming that it was unfair) he said that the junk had smuggled goods on board and that the seizure was legitimate.

His speech won him few friends in Hong Kong, but pointed out that it was unfair for the local merchants to claim that paying duties was wrong when most countries in Europe also levied such port duties. It also showed how much that firm had changed in character, its 'stripes' if you will, in just 30 years. Far from being interested in the next opium run up the China coast, Jardines was planning the first railroad in China (which unfortunately came to naught when the Chinese government, at first suspicious of railroads, bought it up from Jardines, and tore up the entire line from end to end). It knew that its interests in China made it imperative that it cultivate China rather than make it an enemy.

So it was that the firm responsible for founding Hong Kong as an opium smuggler, came out publicly in favor of Chinese interdiction efforts against smugglers just a generation later. Nevertheless, the surprise we might still feel today at this change goes to show how delicately a firm with such a long and infamous history has had to balance its past with its present interests. It remains a sore subject for senior executives in the firm to this day in the public arena (although privately methinks some of them are rather proud of the firm's colorful, controversial founder).

Monday, December 26, 2005

Major-General Cameron and Local Street Riots

1884 was a year of great turmoil in Hong Kong. After a period of improving race relations between the Chinese and British under Governor Sir John Pope-Hennessy, the peace was shattered soon after Governor George Bowen arrived due to the Sino-French War of 1884 over Annam (today's Vietnam). During that war in which France and China disputed who had the sphere of influence in Vietnam (France won out), French ships were in the harbour for repairs after attacking Chinese interests in Fujian and Taiwan. A patriotic Chinese strike was organized by the local populace against helping the French ships, and eventually led to the police and ultimately the colonial garrison called out to stop the protests at the points of their rifle bayonets.

This naturally led to fears of a general uprising, given the fact that Hong Kong's population was over 90% Chinese. The inefficacy of the Sikh policemen to stop the rioters (hence the calling in of the troops) led the British colonial authorities to conclude that more training had to be given to the civil police force. Although British 'bobbies' did not carry guns or firearms traditionally, the thinking was that the police force would be likened to the Irish Constabulary, which were experts with weapons and often armed to the teeth. Indeed, this was why it was Sikhs or North Indians and not Chinese that filled many of the ranks of the police force in the first place.

So it was in this environment that we find some revealing correspondence from the General Officer Commanding (GOC) in China and the Straits Settlements (Singapore/Malaya), Major-General Cameron (yes, the one Cameron Road in Tsim Sha Tsui is named after) to Governor Bowen. Drilling and musketry had definitely become prime requisites for police duty in 1885, particularly after Britain had wrested dominion of North Burma away from China in that year. Major-General Cameron, already the veteran of the Indian Mutiny (as well as the expedition to Abyssinia, among others) was sanguine about the need for more military support in a city garrisonned only by 1,200 men:
Major-General Cameron, C.B., to Governor Sir G.F. Bowen, G.C.M.G.

Head Quarters,
Hongkong, 13th April, 1885


I have the honour to inform you that, with your permission, I saw the Civil Police at Rifle Practice in Kowloon, on Saturday, the 4th instant [meaning of the same month - Ed.], and I candidly confess that, without the slightest desire to flatter, I was exceedingly pleased at their performance, and more especially considering the small amount of ammunition allowed them.

I understand that the arming of the Civil Police with the Martini-Henry Carbine [a relatively new rifle brand then, only a decade in existence - Ed.] as also their Musketry training are entirely due to your Excellency; and I must say that both for the suppression of civil revolt, or for the protection of the Colony in case of attack by an enemy, such an armed and well trained Police Force is of the highest importance.

To render, however, this force thoroughly efficient in Musketry, it is very important (as has been found in regard to the Military), to practice such rapid firing at close quarters as would be necessary in the field, and in clearing the streets in cases of disturbance. [ quite the euphemism - Ed.]

For such practice the present allowance of ammunition, at the rate of 50 rounds per man, is quite insufficient; and I strongly recommend, considering the value of this Police Force, as an important factor in the defences of the Colony, that the annual allowance be increased to 150 rounds per man, and that the ammunition sent out through error and ordered to be returned, vide correspondence (marginally noted) between the Military and Colonial Authorities, be retained for the aforesaid purpose, instad of the useless expense being incurred of returning it all to England as directed.

I have, &c.,

W. G. Cameron,
Commanding in China and Straits Settlements

P.S. Since the above was written, I have received the Inspection report of the Shanghai Volunteers, who appear to have been unable to complete their musketry course owing to want of ammunition; will your Excellency therefore permit the Municipal Council at Shanghai [the foreigners that governed that city's International Settlement - Ed.] to purchase from the Colony the ammunitiion required to the extent of 50,000 rounds, out of the supply overdrawn for the Police?

W. G. Cameron


Governor Sir G. F. Bowen, G.C.M.G. to Major-General Cameron, C.B.

Government House,
Hongkong, 21st April, 1885


I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 13th instant, and to state that your Excellency's testimony to the efficiency of the Civil Police in their Rifle Practice is very satisfactory to myself and to the Government of this Colony.

With the advice of the Executive Council, I have authorised the increased allowance of 150 rounds per man to the Police as you recommend; and I have decided to retain the whole of the Martini-Henry Carbine Ammunition, recently sent out from home, looking to possibvle contingencies in the present critical state of public affairs, [note his panicked tone here - Ed.] and with the view to be in a position to meet the above, and other demands, such as those of the Hongkong Volunteers; and also fo the Shanghai Volunteers (referred to in your letter).

You state: "I understand that the arming of the Civil Police with the Martini-Henry Carbine, as also their Musketry training, are entirely due to your Excellency; and I must say that both for the suppression of Civil Revolt, or for the protection of the Colony in case of attack by an enemy, such an armed and well-trained Police Force is of the highest importance."

I will explain for your information, what has taken place in this matter. Soon after my arrival in this Colony.... I found, moreover, tha tthe carbines formerly supplied to the Police were of an obsolete pattern, worn out, and practically useless; so I procured from Her Majesty's Government for both the Police and the Volunteers, Martini-Henry Rifles of the best type (the same used by the Royal Artillery,) with an ample supply of ammunition.

As I have already said above, your testimony to the present efficiency of the Police in their rifle practice is very satisfactory to myself and to the Colonial Governemnt. A force of three hundred (300) effective men, equial to one-fourth of the whole, has practically been added, in the event of war, or of internal disturbance, to our Garrison of some twelve hundred men (1,200) of all arms; and that... without increase to the expenditure...

In conclusion, I would observe that I know that you agree with me in the opinion that the drill of the Police, and their rifle practice must not be allowed to interefere with the full and diligent discharge of their civil duties in time of peace. On this point, I will quote a passage from my despatch of June 29th, 1883, in whcih I reported to Her Majesty's Govenrment the arrangements which I had made for the imporved efficiency of the Police:-

"I desire it to be understood that nothing can be further from my wish or intention than to invest a Civil Police Corps with too Military a character. But seeing that the English and Sikh potion of the Police Force at Hongkong is regularly armed with rifles and sword-bayonets; that it is analogous in many respects to the Royal Irish Constabulary; and that it is expected to give efficient support to our weak garrison in the event of foreign attack, or of serious internal disturbance,- it is obvious that it should have the advantage of being drilled by a Military Officer as Adjutant. All experience shows that nothing is more useless, and that nothing may become more dangerous than an armed force under imperfect discipline."

I have, &c.,

G. F. Bowen
Imperfect discipline indeed. Imagine the police of Hong Kong, roaming the streets, with access to the state of the art weaponry. Now imagine the fact that most o fthe police force of that time were more or less corrupt. Why was it that the Chinese populace felt they had little recourse to justice?

Friday, December 23, 2005

French Farce During the Boxer Rebellion

I am not often disposed to quote the author of the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx, but I am partial to his insight that: "History repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce." An example of this is the history of the French military in its operations on the North China plain; I am providing this story to bring a bit of mirth for the Christmas season (especially after the sombre tone of my last post!).

The first time that French forces saw action in China was in 1860, when they were part of a joint Anglo-French force that occupied Beijing, ending the Second Opium War. The French were largely responsible for looting the many treasures of the Summer Palace.

A similar action was underway exactly 40 years later, when the Siege of the Legations in Beijing by first the Boxers, and then regular Chinese troops required a relief action by foreign troops. It was thus that, after taking the Taku Forts, securing Tianjin and its Foreign Settlements, the armies of eight nations (mostly European, but including the United States and Japan, the Japanese having mustered the largest force) marched towards the gates of the Imperial City. They expected a tough fight, but found it a rout; by the time the armies were halfway from Tianjin to Beijing, it was more of a race to see which army would reach Beijing and the embattled Embassies (which had held out against all odds with a small detachment of marines and embassy guards for two months).

Unfortunately, the French presence in 1900 was far less impressive than it was in 1860. The men, mostly Vietnamese conscripts that had seen little action and fit only for guard duty, were hastily shipped to be disembarked near Tianjin. They were led by General Frey, who had every reason to despair of salvaging glory from his command. Here I shall allow the pen of Peter Fleming, writing in 1959 in his book The Siege at Peking, to take over with his expert hand:
The British arrived at the Legations at about half past two...General Chaffee and the 14th United States Infantry reached the Legations about 4.30 p.m., and General Lineivitch [the Russians - Ed.] an hour or so later. General Fukushima arrived some time that evening...

It was not until the morning of the 15th that the French appeared [a day after everyone else - Ed.] Their harrowing experiences during the assault are too complex to describe in detail. In the small hours of 14 August they bumped into the Americans who were bivouacked. Here they learnt that they were on the south bank of the canal; they should have been on the north bank. They floundered on, then halted. Some Bengal Lancers rode past them in the darkness. The men were narrowly restrained from opening fire, but in the excitement most of their coolies disappeared.

Then the Americans marched through them. General Chaffee was disagreeable; he suspected General Frey of making an unauthorised dash for Peking and reminded him that he was on the wrong side of the canal. The French found a sluice-gate and with great difficulty crossed to the north bank. It was by now 10 am on the 14th. The men, who although they had done no fighting had been brought up from Tientsin by forced marches, were exhausted.

General Frey's object was to find the Russians. In an interview with General Lineivitch on the previous day he had concerted (or hoped he ahd concerted; there had been no interpreter present) pregnant plans concerning the occupation of Peking, the considerate treatment of the Imperial Court and other not strictly military matters. The Allies' arrangements had provided for a conference of commanders-in-chief during the 14th; and General Frey, whose voice had not been raised at these conclaves since he went back to Tientsin a week earlier, was pardonably anxious to reassert France's right to a hearing. Since Lineivitch was the senior general, the conference would be held in his camp; and to a quest for this camp General Frey, whose stamina must have been remarkable, devoted the rest of the day.

The French Expeditionary Corps had only one map; it was obsolete and useless. Their few Shetland-pony-sized chargers were on their last legs; Frey was virtually destitute of scouts or even mounted orderlies. He did eventually find the Japanese commander-in-chief; but neither General Yamaguchi nor anyone else present could speak a language other than their own, and Frey was given an escort to take him forward to the Japanese chief of staff, General Fukushima, who was something of a linguist and would put him in touch with the Russians, now believed to be well inside Peking.

So, it turned out, was General Fukushima. Frey had a long, lacerating wait at Japanese advanced headquarters outside the Tung Pien Men. At nightfall he sent Captain Bobo back to bring up part of the French contingent; and thus, to use his own words, 'our national prestige was safeguarded, for the French Commander-in-Chief and a small detachment of infantry and artillery passed through the Tung Pien Men (in other words entered Peking) on the same day as the other Allies - the 14th of August, before midnight.'

By 4 a.m. on the 15th they were advancing cautiously in a deluge of rain through the deserted streets, clutching at the muzzles of their rifles to prevent the bayonets rattling. A halt wa called on the outskirts of the Legation Quarter. Colours were unfurled, buglers marshalled to the front; their entry was to be a ceremonial victory march. Commands were given incisively. The brave notes rang out. The small, tired soldiers stepped off briskly. The sodden Tricolor flapped. But alas, the going was not suited to their purpose. 'The column, obliged to cross barricades, tenches and other obstacles became somewhat strung out and disorganised.'
So it was that the French force arrived in Beijing a day later than everyone else, without having to fire a shot, but yet totally exhausted.

The valor of France during the siege came from the resolute defenders of the Peitang Cathedral and its out-buildings, with just 41 French (mostly Breton) sailors and two officers guarding over 3,000 Christian converts against a horde of Boxers that had already massacred thousands of their fellow brethren. For two months and no news from the outside, the French, outnumbered and outgunned, managed to hold off enraged Boxers that wanted to enter and create thousands of new martyrs. Only three days after the Legations were relieved were these brave defenders rescued from their doom, just as they were running out of ammunition and Chinese bombs had made a breakthrough inevitable.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Hong Kong's First Asylum

As Christmas draws near, I thought I'd hit upon the unhappy subject of lunatics, as mentally disturbed or handicapped people were called in the 19th century. Apologies in advance! I am sure all of you find that things get hectic at this time of the year, and 2005 is certainly no exception for me. Please forgive some patchy posting this week.

I found a rather absorbing account of how Hong Kong developed its first lunatic asylum. It is contained in the Chief Medical Officer's report for 1893:
In 1873 no such Government Institution existed. Chinese Lunatics were sent to the Tung Wa Chinese Hospital. European Lunatics were confined in the Gaol till they could be sent to their native places.

At the end of 1874 a European Female Lunatic [capitalization is original author's - Ed.] was sent into the Gaol. This young person was very noisy and slept little, day and night her singing, laughter and shouting were to be heard if she was in good temper which she usually was, but if she was not her howling and screaming was something appalling. This kept most of the prisoners awake who had to work hard all day, an additional punishment to which they were not sentenced, not only this but it annoyed the whole neighbourhood among others two unofficial members of Council who lived close by and who very forcibly in council backed up my representations that the Gaol was not a fit place for the detention of Lunatics. So the half of a building consisting of two seni-detached houses was fitted up as a Lunatic Asylum. This building was in a very ruinous condition and in the event of any severe blow coming on, the Lunatics had to be transferred to the Police cells till it was over, the staff dispersing to their homes for safety. This was opened the 1st day of 1875 and remained in use for about five years. It faced the south side of Hollywood Road on part of the site of the present Victoria College. This site being wanted the building had to come down, so the Lunatic Asylum was transferred to the half of a deserted old Chinese School house which stood on the site of the new wing of the Government Civil Hospital, where it remained till 1886 when the present European Lunatic Asylum was built and ready for occupation.

In 1891 it was decided to build a Lunatic Asylum for Chinese under European supervision. In 1873 Chinese Lunatics were confined in dark and dreary cells in the Tung Wa Hospital under Chinese native doctors' supervision, and those who were violent were chained up in those cells like wild beasts. I represented their evil case and the Government directed that they should build warss well lighted and ventilated which was done and the Chinese doctors visited the European Lunatic Asylum and were shown the more humane methods of restaint used there, and patterns of the various appliances were given to them for use, but they relapsed into their old methods of restraint and so Government decided that they should not be permitted to have violent lunatics or any requipred restraint in their charge, and an Asylum for Chinese Lunatics was built on a site below the European Lunatic Asylum and the poor creatures are now properly housed and cared for under European supervision. The Asylum was opened November, 1891.
Well! Chaining up mentally handicapped people in dark rooms or putting them in jails certainly doesn't sound like a plan to treat their condition. Hong Kong is an orderly city, but one that offers tremendous freedom to both make and lose fortunes; this can be a tremendous strain on people of delicate mental constitutions. Thankfully, this is an area in which the city has made tremendous progress in the last century...

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Chinese 'Fire-Cars' and the WTO

Has anyone that speaks Chinese ever meditated on the Chinese term for train, "Huo Che" in Mandarin, "Fo Tseah"in Cantonese? Fire Car, the literal translation, naturally refers to the age in which coal-fired engines ruled the tracks. But the name also seemed to imply something negative or ominous. Certainly, there were those that simply thought they were bad luck, or more often, thought that the laying of tracks for them disturbed their ancestors' graves and thereby the fortunes of their village.

I've been reading Peter Fleming's (yes, 007 Ian Fleming's brother) book entitled "The Siege at Peking", a journalistic account, sixty years on, of the Siege of the Legations in Beijing during the Boxer Rebellion. In it, he describes the reasons for domestic Chinese opposition to the railroad as being more than simply culture or superstitions:
The foreign businessmen who negotiated the [foreign railroad] concessions were often boors; the overseers who supervised the work were often bullies. Though the railway might on a long view bring prosperity as well as progress, it immediately threatened the livelihood of thousands. Carters, chair-bearers, muleteers, camel-men, innkeepers, and other humble folk faced, or thought they faced, ruin. Junks and the ponderous houseboats of officials could not pass under the [railroad] bridges, so that riverine trade-routes which had flourished for centuries were interrupted. Minor functionaries who controlled and preyed on traffic using the roads and waterways found their importance and their illicit revenues sharply reduced...

Similar feelings were evoked, and similar distress and dislocation caused, by the steamships which made their appearance on the Yangtse and other inland waterways. In cotton-growing districts the importation of foreign piece-goods killed the market for native products; the hand-loom or the spinning wheel could no longer be relied on to keep the wolf from countless doors.
Fleming meant this as background for why thousands of Shandong men left their fields, donned outlandish red robes, thought they were impervious to bullets, and screamed "Sha! Sha!" as they hacked their way through unarmed Chinese Christian converts.

But this passage brought home to me the enormous implications to an entire society that resulted from technological application and the railroad. No one in China today would deny the utility or the benefits of the railroad, but its effects were profound and in the short-term, often negative to existing trades and transport solutions - particularly those that refused to adapt, hidebound in tradition. Those that did not adapt, could no longer make a living.

I feel there is a great similarity between the dislocations brought about by the railroad, which are efficiency/productivity and trade gains brought about by technology, and the trade and consumer gains that occur as a result of a reduction in tariffs brought about by the WTO. Particularly as we live in an age of rising energy costs, keeping inflation down through tariff reductions should be a laudatory measure. In the long run, more aggregate resources of a society, both in terms of its money and its people, can be applied to more productive or value-added areas. But just as with technology dislocations brought about by the steam engine, by electricity, mass production or the Internet, there are short-term losers created by tariff reductions.

I was reminded of these issues of course by the riotous Koreans on my patch last weekend. Why don't WTO protesters demonstrate against the Internet? It has certainly hurt many kinds of traditional retailers that have failed to come up with an effective Internet strategy. It is because there is a societal consensus that technological progress is generally good, and even when it is perceived to be neither, it is also regarded as inevitable.

The invention of the PC put most typists out of work, but none of us (who can remember it) would willingly go back to the days when typing skills were paramount. Perhaps there will be a day too, when we think back to these opening years of the 21st century, and say: yeah those were the years when prices actually came down. Would you rather be paying 50% more for your DVD player? Didn't think so. Don't be so quick to condemn the WTO.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Gambling in Singapore, Part One

I had previously written about the man credited with founding Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles. He is a fascinating character. On the one hand, while Resident at Bencoolen in Sumatra, he refused to condemn the practices of cannibalism he noted, commenting that the man to be eaten usually loses consciousness quickly and suffers a quick death. But on the other, he refused under any circumstances to condone gambling in the new colony of Singapore. He left strict instructions with the 2nd resident, John Crawfurd, not to implement such a scheme, from whom came contrary mutterings. No sooner had Raffles left than had Mr. Crawfurd written to Calcutta (the HQ of the East India Company in Asia) for permission to bring back the practice. The debate, to me, has a familiar ring to anyone that has been reading the Straits Times in the past year and a half, discussing the pros and cons of the 'Integrated Resorts':
...Differing wholly on this question with Sir S. Raffles, it will be the more necessary that I offer a full explanation, a matter which I am enabled to accomplish with the more satisfaction, as I have already frankly explained my sentiments and dissent to himself in person.

12. The gaming licenses have been abolished by Sir S. Raffles under a belief that to license gaming was to encourage the vice, and that the revenue obtained at the expense of the morals of the people, and therefore unworthy of the character of the Government. If the actual circumstances of the case really warranted this interference, I should be heartily prepared to join the Lieutenant-Government of Fort Marlbro' in recommending the permanent abolition of the gaming license, but after a long and attentive consideration of this question I am inclined to come to a very different conclusion.

13. The passion for gaming pervades all ranks of the two principal classes of our population, the Chinese and the Malays, to a most unusual and extraordinary extent, and I am clearly of opinion that in the relation which we stand to them, and the slender opportunities which we possess of reforming their manners and habits, the propensity, as far as our influence is concerned, is incurable.
So Crawfurd here claims that Chinese (and Malays) are addicted to gambling, and that that cannot be changed certainly, I have not attended a mahjong game in either Hong Kong or Singapore that was not accompanied by a friendly wager (or more). He sounds not unlike opium taipan William Jardine here arguing that the vice of opium smoking is ineradicable in the Chinese character. There is a reason for this similarity, perhaps - both were Scotsmen that studied at the Edinburgh College of Surgeons in the late 18th century, and both started their careers as surgeons in the service of the British East India Company.

But whilst Jardine turned his talents to private trade, Crawfurd became an administrator instead, one of a most pragmatic nature. Speaking of pragmatism, the administrations of Singapore both past and present have always had to find a middle way between the idealism of men like Raffles, and the material practicality of men like Crawfurd. But let us continue:
14. If our population, even with the habits I have ascribed to it, were of a stationary nature, there might be fair hopes, with time and pains, to improve it, but the fact is, that by far the greater proportion of the people who are found here are not permanent inhabitants of the place, but individuals who make a temporary convenience of it for a few weeks, for a few months, or at most for a few years. To attempt the reformation of a people so circumstanced appears to me to be utterly hopeless.
The argument here that the local population were only there temporarily appears a facetious one today given that the city when Crawfurd was writing was only 4 years old. But it is similar to the one made by Montgomery Martin, who decried the 'migratory habits of the greater part of the Chinese population" in Hong Kong in 1844, just two years after that city's founding. To continue:
15. It is necessary, besides, to observe that the practice of gaming, especially in reference to the Chinese, is not a vice of the same character which Europeans are accustomed to contemplate it. It is in fact an amusement and recreation which the most industrious of them are accustomed to resort to.

16. Having few holidays and scarcely any amusements besides, they consider being debarred from gaming as a privation and a vilence in some mesaure offered to their habits and manners.
How incredibly magnanimous then of Mr. Crawfurd!
17. It is true, indeed, that gaming is proscribed by their code of laws. The projibition in this case however seems a dead letter, and perhaps sacrecely more valid than that interdiction of foreign trade and emigration, to the disregard of which we owe at this very Settlement one of the principal branches of our trade and the most numerous and industrious class of our population.
In other words - yes, the Chinese prohibit gambling too. But the 19th century Chinese code also strictly forbade Chinese from leaving China, which the ones in Singapore had obviously already done. Crawfurd also obviously preferred Chinese laborers to other races, setting the scene for the mass importation of Chinese labor to Malaya throughout the 19th century.
18. The real effect which I am inclined to believe the prohibition of gaming must produce, while the propensity to indulge in play is so habitually strong, will be, that gaming instead of being publicly carried on will be pursued clandestinely, that instead of being subjected to a wholesome control, all restraint will be removed from it, that the price of conniving at the practice will always be a source of temptation and corruption to the inferior officers of the police, and that, finally, although perhaps less worthy of consideration, a large revenue will be very unnecessarily sacrificed for an imaginary benefit.
So here Crawfurd has kept his powder in reserve until the last. Because here he raises the spectre of illegal gambling, and the inability of Crawfurd's administration to control it, because of both demand and corruption. Having given all of his reasons, he finally makes clear why he wants the gaming licenses - it will be a significant contributor to government funds. So great, in fact, that during his administration gaming made up easily 20% or 25% of government revenue at a time when income taxes were unheard of, and Singapore a free port.

More recent Singapore governments, too has been one obsessed by the fear of corruption in its ranks, and the People's Action Party has acted firmly to ensure it from happening both with draconian laws and with very generous government salaries. When Lee Kwan-Yew was the Prime Minister, he famously said that he was the best-paid, and the poorest leader in Southeast Asia...

...but of course the main reason the Singapore government wants to develop Integrated Resorts at this time would be as a welcome source of new tourism dollars. Perhaps one day we shall regard them as no different, or worthy of comment, from the gaming halls of Mayfair in the heart of London! We shall see. Crawfurd's case, cunningly crafted, still largely holds true today for any city considering taking the plunge in adopting gaming as a legitimate practice.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Hennessy and the Pong in the Gaol

The more I read about former Governor John Pope-Hennessy, the more I admire him for being a revolutionary, fearless character, the veritable bull in a china shop in a rather smug, self-satisfied Imperial outpost. I have mentioned him already for standing up for Chinese rights, for the proper teaching of English and for exposing the myth that Hong Kong had no manufacturing. We shall shortly see him at work at the Fourth of his Herculean tasks - the cleaning of the Augean Stables. In truth, his task was more, shall we say, down to earth. It was to clean up the toilet system of Victoria Gaol [That means prison - Ed.].

I came across this hilarious exchange of correspondence recently. I laughed so hard I feel compelled to publish it here in its entirety. But first a bit of background - until the late 19th century, many people were still using chamber-pots to store their urinary and excremental output. The closed pot, stored under the bed, would sometimes not be tossed out until 2 or 3 days later. While running water for the water closet was introduced by the mid-19th century by inventing geniuses like Thomas Crapper, there was another school of thought that using dry earth to deodorize and neutralize the nightsoil (and also thereby fertilizing the earth), such lavatory conveniences would be more sanitary and hygienic. Its chief supporter an Englishman by the name of Henry Moule. For a time in the latter part of the 19th century it was thought that dry earth was literally the way to go, with him having a fantastic role model in Her Majesty Queen Victoria herself swearing by the dry earth facilities at Windsor Castle and shunning the WC.

Moule according to the article I reference, even quoted the Bible:
``And thou shalt have a paddle upon thy weapon; and it shall be, when thou wilt ease thyself abroad, thou shalt dig therewith, and shalt turn back and cover that which cometh from thee.'' (Deut. 23:13) The New English Bible is even clearer: ``With your equipment you will have a trowel, and when you squat outside, you shall scrape a hole with it and then turn and cover your excrement.''

So with this in mind, we set our time machine back to 1877 when complaints of the horrible odors of Victorian Gaol prompted Sir John to propose dry-earth closets for all the prisoners. The document's title is even funny, referring to itself as 'The Sanitary Papers':
Minute by His Excellency the Governor, 28th May, 1877

On visiting the Gaol I found that a system of latrines is in use that has long since been condemned in similar institutions elsewhere; such a system may lead at any time to a serious outbreak of disease. Refer the Acting Superintendent's memorandum, and any other documents on the subject, to the Colonial Surgeon for his observations.

J. Pope Hennessy, Governor


Copy of Memorandum made by the Acting Superintendent in reply to the Governor's enquires on His Excellency's visit to the Gaol, 26th May 1877:

I find from the records that in July 1874, on the recommendation of Mr. Tonnochy [former prison warden and colonial administrator, Tonnochy Road in Wanchai named after him - Ed.], a number of wooden Closets were put up in the Cells with a view to introducing the earth, system, which I am informed was tried for a short time, but owing to a difficulty in procuring suitable earth and getting the prisoners to use it, the system was abandoned.

Mr. Scudder, the Head Turnkey, tells me that during the short time the dry earth system was being tried the smell in the Corridors was more offensive than it had been before.

The old system was reverted to, viz: a wooden bucket with a close fitting cover is provided for each Cell which the prisoners use at night - the contents are removed in the morning by the Government scavenger. [What a job! - Ed.] During the day time the prisoners go to the latrines provided in the five Upper Yards, but those employed in the Lower Yard use the buckets, which are emptied every morning.

Female prisoners use buckets day and night, which are emptied into the drain running though the Yard.

Prisoners confined in the Remand or Debtors' Ward or in solitary or separate confinement use the buckets both day and night.

Geo. L. Tomlin, Acting Superintendent
The Colonial Surgeon then had the temerity to cross the Governor:
Minute by the Colonial Surgeon, 29th May 1877

Nothing can be done here on the dry earth system, as the proper soil cannot be procured in the Island or none at hand, so that the expense would be very great. The same system is pursued all through the town. In the Chinese quarter proper tubs are under every bed and only emptied once in 2 to 5 days; the average being 3 days. There is no choice but to procure earth froma great distance, to use charcoal or make water closets; all of those systems would be a great expense.

The stench in the Warden's Quarters at times in the hot weather is sickening, and the previous Warden's health suffered very much in consequence.

Ph. B. C. Ayres, Colonial Surgeon


Minute by His Excellency the Governor, 6th June 1877

I fear the Colonial Surgeon is not as fully alive as he should be to the grave consequences of allowing the existing system of Gaol latrines to continue.

Under the present system, a solitary case of cholera or of typhoid fever in the crowded and badly situated Gaol of Hongkong, might speedily destroy a large proportion of the Community.

Nor is the danger confined to that part of the town of Victoria (the centre of the European Quarter) where the Gaol is situated. On proceeding towards the place (Lap-sap-wan [Cantonese for Garbage Bay- Ed.], West end of Victoria District) where the contents of the prisoners' tubs are ultimately deposited [Now we know why Kennedy Town rents are cheap! - Ed.], I found the stench so great as to be offensive outside a radius of an eighth of a mile.

I am not disposed to allow this to continue till some calamity compels the responsible officials to carry out the instructions given more than once by the Secretary of State on this subject.

An abundance of proper earth can be obtained (especially from the neighbourhood of the Wong-nei-chung Valley) for the Gaol.

Means must at once be taken for collective, kiln-drying and properly sifting this earth, and using it according to the printed instructions which accompanied the Secretary of State's despatch of 2nd December, 1867.

I shall hold the Chief Authorities of the Gaol, and especially the Colonial Surgeon, gravely responsible if any unnecessary delay occurs in carrying out these instructions.

J. Pope Hennessy, Governor


Explanation by the Colonial Surgeon

Sir,- I have the honour to acknowledge receipt of your letter No. 389 of the 7th instant, and deeply regret to think that His Excellency the Governor should think I am not fully alive to the evils referred to.

2. In 1875, partly at my instance, an attempt was made to put the dry earth system into operation in the Victoria Gaol. During the time it was on trial and apparently working satisfactorily, I was attacked with typhoid fever, and was subsequently absent for some months on sick leave. Before my return the dry earth system had been abandoned as impractiable, for what valid reason I was never able to discover.

3. Dr. Mouat, the Inspector General of Gaols, mentioned in the Indian Report as one of the promoters of the dry earth system in India, being a personal friend of mine, I have been able to obtain from him the results of its success, and these results I have been able to verify for myself when I was in charge of Indian Gaols and Hospitals.

4. At the same time, I may perhaps point out that being only consulting physician of the Victoria Gaol, I have myself no practical means of putting in practice the dry earth system in that Establishment, and that my duties in regard to it are limited to indiciating to its Superintendent whatever sanitary measures may occur to me from time to time desirable.

5. I am however by no means sesirous on this account to limit myself to giving good advice, and would be glad to assist His Excellency the Governor practically, and in any way which the Government may wish, in the work of Sanitation...

6. In applying the dry earth system to the Victoria Gaol or any other Public Building, I would strongly recommend, in spite of the increased expense, the use of some other earth than that obtainable in the Island, as its deodorising qualities, from the prevalence of quartz, are extremely feeble.

Ph. B. C. Ayres, Colonial Surgeon
So, in Victorian parlance, some rather savage riposte and counter-riposte going on. Hennessy, unsatisfied with Ayres response, kicked the rather messy issue way upstairs - asking the Earl of Carnarvon [yes, the road in Tsim Sha Tsui is named after him - Ed.] for his support:
Governor J. Pope Hennessy, C.M.G., to Earl of Carnarvon, Her Majesty's Principal Secretary of State, 14th June 1877

My Lord,-I enclose for Your Lordship's information a copy of my Minute of the 28th May referring the question of the state of the latrines in the Gaol to the Colonial Surgeon, Dr. Ayres. In his reply of the 29th of May he gives his reasons for thinking that nothing could be done to carry out the dry earth system in the Hongkong Gaol: though he admits that even in the Warden's Quarters, the stench is, at times, sickening; and that the previous Warden's health suffered much in consequence.

In my Minute of the 6th of June, I pointed out that, under the present system, a solitary case of cholera or typhoid fever in the crowded and badly situated Gaol of Hongkong might speedily destroy a large proportion of the Community, and I directed proper steps to be taken, without any unnecssary delay, for establishing the dry earth system.

There will be in fact no real difficulty in getting this system into operation in the Gaol. Gentlemen who have also resided here for many years, tell me they have used the system with complete success and with no more trouble than in other places.

J. Pope Hennessy, Governor
That evidently did the trick:
Colonial Surgeon to Acting Colonial Secretary, August 2nd, 1877

Sir,-In replying to the Minute of His Excellency the Governor in regard to the date when the dry earth system was introduced into the Victoria Gaol, I would refer you to my letter of the 11th June, a copy of which I enclose.[must not have gotten to the Governor before he wrote off to the Earl-Ed.]

In that letter I explained that in respoect to the Gaol my functions were not executive, and being purely consultative, I limited myself to arranging with the Honourable Surveyor General for the carrying out of His Excellency's wishes.

Mr. Price now informs me twenty dry earth closets have been working in the Gaol since the date of His Excellency's first Minute, that ninety-one are on the verge of completion, and that the remainder will be finished during the month.

A better quality of earth than heretofore used is to be brought from Kowloon, and observations will be made of its efficacy after a sufficient trial.

I may add that the new buckets are being prepared as I have recommended, so as to insure a more perfect deodorization [might the Colonial Surgeon have read Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, which refers to a 'more perfect Union'? - Ed.]

Ph. B.C. Ayres, Colonial Surgeon


Acting Superintendent to Colonial Secretary, 7th January, 1878

Sir,-With reference to the 'dry earth system' in Victoria Gaol, which up to the present time has worked satisfactorily, the earth having been supplied by the Surveyor General's Department, I have the honour [!-Ed.] to state that the last supply is exhausted and that more is urgently required.

In answer to my requisition to the Surveyor General's Department on the 1st January, I was informed by Mr. Bowdler that "from the first of the current year dry earth would be provided by the Gaol Department," and as there are no records in the Gaol office to show that any arrangement had been made on the subject, I have the honour [there he goes again -Ed.] to request that I may be informed how the earth will be provided.

I have, &c.,

T.C. Dempster, Capt., Acting Superintendent


Minute by the Surveyor General, 8th January 1878

I regret this unfortunate delay should have occured through my absence from the office last week. The earth is now being sent to the Gaol. I had arranged with Captain Ducat to supply the earth - while he was to pay for it out of the Gaol grant voted expressly for the purpose. The dry earth service will now continue uninterruptedly through the year.

J.M. Price, Surveyor General


Minute by His Excellency the Governor, 19th January 1878

Is the dry earth system now in force in the whole of the Gaol?

J. Pope Hennessy, Governor


Reply of Acting Superintendent, 21st January, 1878

The dry earth system is not carried out in the female ward and all the yards and Turnkeys' and guards' closets. It is in force in all the cells and body of the Gaol. Partly carried out in tubs by five coolies, and partly emptied down a drain. The Surveyor General has been communicated with on the subject, and this morning all the contents of the buckets were taken away by ten coolies. When the system is in force all through the Gaol, more coolies will be required.
I shall leave it there, with the Governor more or less getting his way, though people try to foil his dry-earth policy (how much more pleasant than a scorched-earth policy!) at every turn. The rest of the report is a fascinating read, especially with regards to Peak residents basically throwing their excreta away on the hillside or even into drinking reservoirs. But I shall leave such discoveries, and stories of scavenger services, to your personal interest. Until the morrow!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Hong Kong's Deathbed Marriages

Now yesterday I had already mentioned the world's oldest profession and one corner of the city in which it practiced - Lyndhurst Terrace. But in fact, the workers were spread throughout the Colony. In its earliest years, almost no women or families came out with the men that actually worked in and expanded Hong Kong, whether British or Chinese. This is whyHong Kong's first census showed that there were more brothels (I believe 28) registered than families (I believe 26 or 27). Even as late as 1880, it was estimated by the Police that 70%-80% of the women in Hong Kong were prostitutes or women of easy virtue.

Let us then fast forward 11 years to 1892, the 50th anniversary of the Hong Kong's official establishment as a British Colony. There were still a few that might have remembered most of that period, but they were few and far between, and dying out fast. Younger colonials, and Chinese merchants, were increasingly moving to Hong Kong with their wives, turning an increasingly steely eye on the rather dubious habits of the menfolk, turning mistresses and courtesans into secrets that had to be concealed. But old habits died hard - literally, for the members of the Roman Catholic Church. There were many Catholics in Hong Kong, and they, like all other men, were not immune to keeping mistresses or having a common law wife - even though it was a great sin. Some of course were Portuguese, being numerous in Hong Kong, but there were certainly other Catholics here, be they soldiers, British civilians or even Chinese converts.

As these Catholics succumbed to disease and ailments, many would want to confess their sins to their priests, and at least some take solace in a marriage ceremony with their female companions to make up for their past misdeeds as they prepared to meet their maker. It was for this reason that the following bill was passed at the Legislative Council session on December 14th, 1892:
The Acting Attorney-General- I rise to move the second reading of a bill entitled an Ordinance [for Deathbed Marriages] to amend the Marriage Ordinance, 1875... the chief object of the Bill was to offer relief to certain scruples of the Roman Catholic Church in Hongkong. As a matter of fact, however, the Bill is general in its form and any Christian Church can make use of its provisions. On this occasion I will very shortly refer to the actual provisions of the Bill itself and the conditions under which a deathbed marriage is allowed to take place. In section 2, which sanctions marriage between people who have lived together in unlawful connection, I propose when we go into Committee to make some slight alteration in the language, and to substitute for "lived in unlawful connection" the words "lived together in unlawful concubinage." [there you go - Ed.] These marriages are only to take place under certain definite conditions. The first is that the parties are to be able to signify their consent to the marriage, and to do so in the presence of two witnesses. Then with regard to minors such marriage is not to take place, except either is a widow or a widower, [odd, no? - Ed.] unless the consent,the necessary consent, of those who stand in the position in loco parentis is obtained. Then no marriage shall be valid which, on the ground of kindred or affinity, would be invalid in England.
But then the amusing bit is at the end, which discusses the effects a deathbed marriage would have on any wills and testaments:
The rule in this colony and in England is that a marriage revokes a will. The Secretary of State has directed that if this Ordinance was introduced there should be a provision inserted that a deathbed marriage should not have the effect of revoking a will. The Secretary of State has not exactly stated what his reasons are but I could very well imagine myself [I'm sure your can sir! - Ed.] that a man might be under the influence of religious fervour and do possibly what his religious advisers or priests may tell him is his duty, and it is thought fit that a marriage under such circumstances should not revoke any previous provision which he had made possibly in good health for the benefit of his family or relatives.
As I have mentioned before, men that had wives at home would often take mistresses here, and the European merchants, when returning home, would simply settle the accounts of the affair with a lump-sum cash payment. Sometimes the money would instead be paid in trust, particularly when there were children involved with this second union, and in such cases, the mistresses were known as 'pensioners'. So by family or relatives in that last sentence, the Attorney-General is of course referring to the family back in England or wherever else - the last thing any Hong Kong judge wanted, after all, was to mediate between the first and second families of dead merchants. Perhaps that principle, a century on, informed the Court of Final Appeal's thinking too a few years back when they reversed their original decision to allow the children of Hong Kong men live here in the city...

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Brothels of Lyndhurst Terrace

In the course of several conversations in the past month, I have found several people disbelieving my claim that Lyndhurst Terrace, today a rather chic area for dining and shopping, was in fact once a red light district. Allow me to furnish proof, here, here, and here, announced by the Registrar-General of Hong Kong himself, who was at that time Frederick Stewart (previously also the Headmaster of the Government Central School and the Schools Inspector):
The Contagious Diseases Ordinance, 1867.

It is hereby notified that the part of the house hereinafter mentioned, that is to say, the First Floor of No. 16, Lyndhurst Terrace, [Today the Union Commercial Building - Ed.] was, on the 14th day of March, 1884, pursuant to Section 23 of the above ordinance, declared by me under my Hand and Seal of Office to be an Unlicensed Brothel.

It is hereby notified that the part of the house hereinafter mentioned, that is to say, the First Floor of No. 18, Lyndhurst Terrace, [Today the Car Po Commercial Building, home to a Midwives' office, and a Shark's Fin Restaurant, among other things - Ed.] was, on the 13th day of February, 1884, pursuant to Section 23 of the above Ordinance, declared by me under my Hand and Seal of Office to be an Unlicensed Brothel.
The next one is slightly more pointed, naming names in the process:
It is hereby notified that the part of the house hereinafter mentioned, that is to say, the First Floor of No. 27, Lyndhurst Terrace, [Today home to the chic club Fly] of which Mr. S.B. Bhabha is the registered Lessee, was, on the 19th day od March, 1884, pursuant to Section 23 of the above Ordinance, declared by me under my Hand and Seal of Office to be an Unlicensed Brothel.
There you have it. An additional, closing anecdote, is one I take from Jan Morris's highly enjoyable history of Hong Kong. There was an Australian lady named Mrs. Randall, who advertised her services in the local newspaper at Lyndhurst Terrace by writing: "Mrs. Randall's has sweet HONEY available in small jars." The male-dominated world of 19th century Hong Kong thusly made concessions to the customs of Victorian England.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Dog Shooting On the Peak, 1927

A couple of months ago I blogged on Simon World about the nasty habit of the Guangzhou authorities of clubbing unregistered dogs to death, often times in front of their owners (who were unable or unwilling to pay the RMB 10,000 fee to register them).

But little did I know that a comparable practice existed in Hong Kong some eighty years ago, although the licensing fees were far lower. Here in the minutes of a Legco Meeting from 1st September 1927, during the tenure of Governor Cecil Clementi, I find the following report:
Hon. Mr. D. G. M. BERNARD asked the following question:-

Will the Government cause an enquiry to be held into the circumstances connected with the shooting of dogs at Jardine's Corner, Peak, on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, the 23rd and 24th July, having due regard to the people using the roads and the necessity or otherwise of such drastic action?

The COLONIAL SECRETARY [Mr. W.T. Southorn, C.M.G., Southorn Gardens in Wanchai was named after him - Ed.] in reply, stated - The Government has caused full enquiries to be made into the occurrences referred to in the first part of the Honourabl Member's question. The shooting near Jardine's Corner was carried out by experienced Police Officers as the result of a complaint from a Peak resident of the danger to children from the presence of so many unmuzzled dogs in that neighborhood, and the Government much regrets that by an error of judgment the shooting took place in the presence of children and that one child received a slight scratch [! - Ed.] apparently from a ricochet or a piece of stone. Orders have been issued that every possible care is to be taken to avoid the shooting of dogs in the presence of children, but it is obvious that the presence od spectators cannot always be avoided. The Government much regrets the necessity for undertaking the unpleasant duty of shooting dogs, but this necessity is forced upon it by the wholesale disregard of the law by dog-owners in this Colony. Among these law-breakers are to be numbered many Peak residents It must be within the knowledge of all Honourable Members that, even since the occurrences referred to, dog-owners on the Peak and elsewhere still permit their dogs to roam about unmuzzled. As to the necessity for drastic action on the Peak as well as elsewhere it does not seem necessary to add anything to the bare statement of the fact that no less than 20 dogs from the Peak have been reported to the Police as having bitten people since the 1st January, 1926, that there were 184 reported cases of persons being bitten by dogs in Hong Kong Island since that date, 11 reported cases of rabies and 11 reported cases of hydrophobia. The risk of the terrible disease of hydrophobia arising from the presence of unmuzzled dogs in a Colony infected with rabies appears to be quite inadequately appreciated.
Well, there you have it - the government making it its business fairly unapologetically to kill (oops, cull, dogs). In an historical sense, then, the current Peak poisoner is simply filling a void left by the government for some years since this policy lapsed. That iniquitous person, though, is probably an irate jogger annoyed by the frequent islands of dog droppings found on every path on the Peak...

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Street Names of Jardine Matheson

I was reminded in an article by local historian Dan Waters about the many streets named after the 'Princely Hong' of Jardine Matheson. As I have reminded the readers of these pages many times, Jardines occupies a pre-eminent position in the history of Hong Kong because it was that firm, when it dominated the opium trade, that it managed to persuade the British Parliament to go to war with China, and taking Hong Kong as its prize of the Opium War.

That importance is evident from a stroll around the environs of Wanchai or Causeway Bay. In Causeway Bay alone, one finds Yee Wo Street (the former Chinese name of Jardines was Ewo, most popularized by the well-known Ewo Beer in the prewar years), Jardine's Crescent and Jardine's Bazaar. All of these are reminders of how when the Colony first started, Jardines puchased plots of land in the area then known as East Point as their Hong Kong headquarters. Quoting an early traveler to Hong Kong, "indeed the buildings already erected by Messrs. Jardine and Matheson are so extensive, as to form almost a town of themselves." They moved over to Central two decades later, but owned much of the land until the early 20th century.

We have not yet mentioned the many streets also named after Jardine taipans. As recounted by Waters, these include Bulkeley Street market, Perceval Street, Irving Street, Anton Street, Landale Street, Matheson Street, Paterson Street, Johnstone Street and Keswick Street. To think that when the Colony first started, the heads of Jardines complained that not enough streets were named after the prominent merchants of the town!

There is of course Jardine's Lookout. Allow me to quote Waters directly:
It was from this 433 metre high vantage point that observers galloped down by 'pony express' to head office, in the days before modern communications, with the news that a Jardine ship was a pproaching. In early Hong Kong the company is said to have had a fleet of 12 ships which were faster than those of rival firms.
Enjoy your weekend!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

FDR's Address to Congress: Dec 8, 1941

We have heard a great deal about the Japanese Occupation of Hong Kong over the last few months, particularly on the 60th anniversary of the war's end. It has unfortunately continued, due to China's noticeable commemoration of the event and Japan's PM insisting on visiting the Yasukuni War Shrine to honor Japan's War dead (including its war criminals). I tried to find official records of the events locally.

I find the official record of the Hong Kong government very patchy after December 6th, partly because the Japanese bombing on the 7th and the invasion on the 8th made regular government business difficult. Many official papers were also burnt during the attack, leaving little record of Allied war counsels. What paper remained was used as fuel by those that had to survive the Japanese Occupation.

Instead of writing about the fighting, though, I thought today I would simply make available US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's address to Congress on December 8th, 1941, in the wake of the Pearl Harbor attack and the attack on Hong Kong. It is absorbing, moving reading, transporting one back in time to relive the gravity of the situation. Without further ado:

Yesterday, December 7, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that Nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its Government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific. Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to the Secretary of State a form reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hit of war or armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese Government had deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. Very many American lives have been lost. In addition American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday the Japanese Government also launched an attack against Malaya.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam.

Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

Last night the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our Nation.

As Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.

Always will we remember the character of the onslaught against us. No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces--with the unbounded determination of our people--we will gain the inevitable triumph--so help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December seventh, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.

Franklin D. Roosevelt
The White House, December 8, 1941

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Eli Boggs, American Pirate of the China Seas

Allow me to quote again from Mr. George Wingrove Cooke, in this instance regarding a remarkable incident from the 19th century - the trial and conviction of an American as a pirate. And no mere pirate - Eli Boggs was said to have at one point controlled over 50 war junks and was a terror of the South China Seas. Without further ado:
...let me mention that an American, named Eli Boggs, was tried at Hongkong on Wednesday last for piracy and murder. His name would do for a villain of the Blackbeard class, but in form and feature he was like the hero of a sentimental novel; as he stood in the dock, bravely battling for his life, it seemed impossible that that handsome boy could be the pirate whose name had been for three years connected with the boldest and bloodiest acts of piracy. It was a face of feminine beauty. Not a down upon the upper lip; large lustrous eyes; a mouth the smile of which might woo coy maidens; affluent black hair, not carelessly parted; hands so small and so delicately white that they would create a sensation in Belgravia: such was the Hongkong pirate, Eli Boggs. He spoke for two hours in his defence, and he spoke well - without a tremor, without an appeal for mercy, but trying to prove that his prosecution was the result of a conspiracy, wherein a Chinese bumboat proprietor and a sub-official of the colony (both of whom he charged as being in league with all the pirates on the coast) were the chief conspirators. The defence was, of course, false. It had been proved that he had boarded a junk, and destroyed by cannon, pistol and sword, fifteen men; and that, having forced all the rest overboard, he had fired at one of the victims, who had clutched a rope and held on astern. No witness, however, could prove that he saw a man die from a blow or a shot struck or fired by the pirate. The jury, moved by his youth and courage, and straining hard their consciences acquitted him of the murder but found him guilty of piracy. He was sentenced to be transported for life...
Piracy was a major problem in the area from before the British arrived; it had been called the Ladrones by the Portuguese, 'ladron' meaning pirate or robber. The seafarers of this stretch of the China coast were far from imperial authority, and so made their living from fishing, trade and piracy as a sometimes attractive sideline. What was amazing was this lad's ability to run a piracy enterprise in the midst of a wealth of local talent...he was put to work on building roads in Hong Kong, and despite his sentence of transportation (Chinese criminals in Hongkong were sometimes sent all the way to India or Malaya for hard labor), he was let off and was allowed to slink away after just three years on account of ill health. Clearly the sympathy he derived from his good looks must have taken him a long way...

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Vermin of 19th Century Hong Kong

Many of the first visitors to Hong Kong were not overly impressed with it. In the first decade (1840-1850), it was thought a fervid, pestilential place that may not survive. The following decade saw it prosper, and travelers accordingly changed their tune, describing it as a place full of palaces, but far too expensive as a travel destination. Certainly George Wingrove Cooke, a correspondent from the Times of London, was not overly impressed when he arrived in the late 1850s. Perhaps the first travel journalist recorded for posterity, he had the following to say about the vermin of the small island, in a section he called, simply, "torments":
In recompense for the small interest which the island can afford to the equine, bovine and ovine genera, it is pleasant to be able to testify that the entomologist and the man curious in reptilia may findf constant amusement. The winged cockroach is so finely developed and so rich in fecundity, that specimens may be seen at all times, and in the most handsome drawing-rooms, crawling over the floors and tables by day, in size like mice, and banging against the lamp glasses at night, in size like birds. The spiders are so colossal that you wonder how they can have fed themselves to such a size, and yet left so many flies undevoured. The mosquitoes are so clever in insinuating themselves through your fortress of gauze, and they so keenly cut slices out of your fleshy parts, that you hail the dawn of day with the sensations of an Abyssinian ox [what meaning that has is lost to history-Ed.]. The serpent tribe find the island favourable to their growth, for it was only a short time since that a Regulus, in the uniform of a British colonel, was brought to a stand by a cobra five feet long - "serpens portculosus magnitudinis." He was destroyed, happily, without any loss on the side of the British....
So if you are relieved that the onset of winter has caused a diminution of your living household annoyances, rest assured you are far from the first to have expressed such sentiments...

Monday, December 05, 2005

Rules for Demonstrations in Hong Kong

Given the size and demonstrable unity of feeling amongst the participants of yesterday's march, it is quite likely that there will be more in the coming months and years as China and its official proxies here in Hong Kong try to duck the issue of a full democratic franchise.

It seems therefore apropos that marchers be aware of the history of laws meant to prevent them from fomenting protests of a more disorderly kind.

A few highlights: don't wave any particularly offensive flags, wear any provocative uniforms (no not of the cosplay kind), and don't be a triad member:
3. (1) Any police officer of or above the rank of inspector may-

(a) prohibit the display at a public gathering of any flag banner or other emblem...

4. (1) Any person who in any public place or at any public gathering wears any uniform signifying his association with any political organization or with the promotion of any political object shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine of $5,000 and to imprisonment for 3 years.


5. [the Triad clause-Ed.] If the members or adherents of any society are -

(a) organized or trained or equipped for the purpose of enabling them to be employed in such a manner than such employment usurps, may usurp, tends to usurp or appears to usurp the functions of the police or the armed forces of the Crown; or

(b) organized and trained or organized and equipped for the purpose of enabling them to be employed for the use or display of physical force in promoting any political object, or in such manner as to arouse reasonable apprehension that they are organized and either trained or equipped for that purpose,


(i) any person who is a member or adherent of such society shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine of $5,000 and to imprisonment for 3 years; and

(ii) any person who takes part in the control or management of such society, or in organizing or training or equipping as aforesaid any members or adherents of the society, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for 10 years and on summary conviction to a fine of $5,000 and to imprisonment for 5 years.

6. The Commissioner of Police may, if it appears to him to be necessary or expedient in the interest of public order so to do, in such manner as he may think fit by order -

(a) notwithstanding the issue of any permit under section 4(29) of the Summary Offences Ordinance, control and direct the extent to which music may be played, or to which music or human speech or any other sound may be amplified broadcast, relayed or otherwise reproduced by artificial means in-

(i) public places; or
(ii) places other than public places if such music, human speech or sound is directed towards persons in public places;

(b) control and direct the conduct of all public gatherings and specify the route by which, and the time at which, any public procession may pass;

(c) for any of the purposes aforesaid, give or issue such orders as he may consider necessary or expedient.
17. (2) Any police officer of or above the rank of inspector may-

(a) prevent the holding of, stop, disperse or vary the place of route of any public gathering, other than a public gathering exclusively for religious purposes, whether or not the public gathering is one to which section 7 or 13 applies... if he reasonably believes that the same is likely to cause or lead to a breach of the peace.

17B. (2) Any person who in any public place behaves in a noisy or disorderly manner, or uses, or distributes or displays any writing contraining, threatening, abusive or insulting words, with intent to provoke a breach of the peace, or whereby a breach of the peace is likely to be caused, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine of $5,000 and to imprisonment for 12 months."
So there you have but a small taste of the many regulations on record. Many of promulgated by the Colonial authorities in the wake of the 1956 riots, violent demonstrations that were in significant part organized by triad societies. The irony of all this, of course, that while the British at the eleventh hour tried to introduce democracy to Hong Kong, also bequeathed it these draconian regulations from the eventful 1950s and 1960s that could now be used against the same protesters. Some of the most invasive and loosely worded regulations were amended in the 1980s and 1990s, but many others are still on the books... let's all hope it will never come to that in the run-up to 2007 and 2008 (when fully democratic elections for the Chief Executive and Legco, respectively, are first permitted by the Basic Law).

Friday, December 02, 2005

Social Darwinism in 19th Century Asia

Concurrent to the high period of European imperialism was the rise of Darwinism with its theories of evolution and natural selection. The dominance Europe had on most of the rest of the world at that time meant of course that people of many different races came under their flags and banners. It was almost inevitable, therefore, that theories of evolution and natural selection would be adapted (perverted, really) by triumphalist Westerners (on both sides of the Atlantic) to account for the dominance of the West over the rest of the world (even though that 19th century moment when they were on top was but a speck in the Sea of Time). Theorists like Herbert Spencer and others were popular throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During this period, these theories of natural selection were expanded upon and misapplied as gross, static generalizations that were made about races and cultures, with their late 19th century weakness relative to Europe attributable to genetics and cultural determinism.

I go back to the Austrian gentleman I quoted before, Karl Ritter von Scherzer, on a mid-19th century voyage in Asia. There, he speaks of Chinese and Indians and their different capabilities. It is shocking to our current sensibilities, but it is important to remember that such observations and views were commonplace just fifty years ago (and in fact can still be heard today):
We find Chinese scattered throughout Eastern Asia, in Australia, in California, in Peru, in Brazil, in the West Indies, and what is very astonishing they thrive and prosper at most places they visit, despite the not very humane treatment they receive, and the wretched, desolate state in which they leave their homes. This enormous emigration of the sons of the Flowery Land seems destined to be of immense importance, and to be fraught with momentous influence upon the future of the other Asiatic populations, whom the Chinese greatly excel in capacity for work, mechanical dexterity and dogged perseverance. [Here it begins - Ed.] Even the religious movement gives the Chinese certain advantages over all other nations of the Asiatic type of civilization. The Hindoo, like the Catholic, has numbers of festivals, which greatly diminish the number of his actual working days; the daily ceremonies prescribed by Brahminism further curtail the most precious hours of labour; his exclusively vegetarian food not alone prevents the proper development of his muscular power, but also by its ostentatiously morbid delicacy, brings him constantly into collision with the social order of a Christian household. The Chinese, on the other hand, keeps but one holiday-time, the beginning of the new year, which he celebrates for fourteen days without intermission. But the remaining 11 1/2 months of the year are for him but one long day of work. Moreover, the Chinese has no fastidious notions about his food. He eats pork, and drinks wine, and prefers fat meat to meagre fruit diet, thoroughly unrestrained by any considerations as to whether such a mode of life accords with the institutes of Brahma and Menu, or the teaching of Confucius. Their sobriety, their capacity, their industry, their frugal mode of life, and their numbers, all seem to indicate the Chinese as destined to play an important part, not alone in the development of the Oriental nations, but also in the history of mankind. They are, as a German philosopher has profoundly remarked, the Greeks and Romans of Eastern Asia, and they will if once hurried onwards by the great tide of Christian civilization, perform such feats as to fill even the nations of the old world with wonder and amazement.
What have we learnt from this passage, other than the fact that Herr von Scherzer did not like writing in small paragraphs? We find a willingness to generalize about race. It may be useful to a point to do so, especially when speaking to an audience even more ignorant than oneself; but as we can see, it has so many dangers and pitfalls that it is no longer profitable to do so in the present age. Most of all, it not only defines 'the Other' but takes the opportunity to be an individual away from them, both Chinese and Indians.

But Chinese, and also Indians that may take offense at such statements today, should examine their own racial beliefs. I know less about the Indian situation except from interlocutors with whom I am acquainted, but have found strong evidence of Social Darwinist thinking in many strands of public discourse, in both China and in Hong Kong. It may seem like just harmless points of debate, but it must have seemed so also to the Austrians and Caucasians of every nationality in the 19th century that held those views. But such beliefs about racial and ethnic natural selection, already stretching the edge of accuracy or civility, mutated into a far more potent and deadly strain, expounded by another Austrian - Adolf Hitler. It is my hope that in the 21st century, some Asian countries that seem not to have taken on board the lessons about Social Darwinism from World War II, will do so and understand how making generalizations about race in our global society does little except make strangers of us all.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Sino-Austrian Culture Shock, Circa 1860

As I have mentioned in past columns, the cultural gap between East and West could sometimes be rather unbridgeable. Some members of each culture will invariably seize upon the worst elements of the other, and hold it up as evidence of a more general barbarism.

Unfortunately, for the Chinese living in the moral vacuum of 19th century China, there were examples aplenty for Western visitors to seize upon. The discoveries of an Austrian visitor named Karl Ritter von Scherzer were particularly gruesome with regard to female child infanticide. A passage from his memoirs of his journey read as follows:
As in their religion, so in their mode of life, and their national customs, the Chinese remain stiff-necked and obstinate, and in this direction also Christianity is in but few cases capable of mitigating their frequently barbarous customs. Children in China are constantly exposed in large numbers, and that not owing to poverty, but from indifference to the female children. One Chinese woman who at present professes Christianity, and is a member of the Bale missionary community, has herself killed eight female children whom she had herself carried in her womb! Dr. Lobscheid informed us that he was personally cognizant of one case, where a Chinese mother-in-law, irritated at the birth of a female child, murdered it before its mother's eyes, almost immediately after it had come into the world, and this in a rather well-to-do family! Young mothers often lay their children down in the open field, or on the sea-beach, watching anxiously if any one takes it away, or till a wave mercifully sweeps it off. One such infant, accidentally found by some of the crew of the English frigate Nankin, and tended with all the tender-heartedness of Jack when he finds an object of compassion, is at present in the German Mission House at Hong-kong, and was baptized in the cathedral by the chaplain of the frigate, who gave her the name of Victoria Nankin...
There is no defense to my mind of such monstrous behavior, and perhaps from that perspective the mui tsai system seems almost more palatable; both in any case condemn the horrifically low place of women in Chinese society (unless they become powerful mothers-in-law, it seems).

There is some irony, I think that the gentle-hearted old salts of the Nankin were the ones to save this little castoff, given that their ship was named after the Treaty, surely, that granted Hong Kong to Britain in perpetuity as a result of the amoral Opium War. To name the little girl after the British sovereign in whose name the war was fought and the treaty that ended it, is both fitting at an individual level (for the sailors' mercy in this case is above reproach), and indicative of the use of 'civilization' (as white man's burden) as a justification for war and conquest by Europe in the East.

I had a sudden epiphany over the weekend, which was this: there is no irony without history. Certainly one who has cultivated a knowledge of history can also better appreciate the cutting, sometimes cruel turns of chance that bring polar opposites together, and in course of time rip felicitous unions apart. Irony is the dry, private reward for those who observe the struggles of Man and (His) Nature to rise and fall and come, in the course of time, full circle.