Thursday, August 11, 2005

Libel and The Sordid Details of Early Hong Kong

Sorry, we've just gotten back from distributing our new bilingual (Mandarin/English) brochure in Macau (which, by the way is FREE for anyone to dial in, except for airtime and the fact that you must be on the CTM network - buy a CTM SIM card right at the ferry terminal to lower your dial-in costs!), and haven't much time before our walk in half an hour. But I thought I would share with you some rather scurrilous stories of early Hong Kong. You see, before the advent of effective libel laws here, the small, petty colonial community engaged in mud-slinging matches that could literally be heard from London (due to complaint letters sent to the colonial office). I take the stories here verbatim from a book entitled, Twentieth Century Impressions of Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Other Treaty Ports of China: Their People, Commerce, Industries and Resources, published at the early date of 1907, I believe. This is some great stuff:

The Press perhaps, was the least to offend in these unwholesome days, the Government officials among themselves indulging in the most disgraceful open calumnies and undisguised defamations. In 1857, the Attorney General (Mr. T.C. Anstey) charged the Registrar-General (Mr. Caldwell) with “having a scandalous association with a brothel licensed by himself; with having passed a portion of his life amongst Chinese outlaws and pirates; with an alliance with some of the worst Chinese in the Colony, through his wife – a Chinese girl from a brothel; with being a speculator in brothels,” &c.

In August of the same year (1857) the editor of the Friend of China was brought to court for libeling the Acting Colonial Secretary on a charge of burning the books of the pirate Machow Wong to screen himself and the Registrar-General against a charge of complicity with pirates, but the jury brought in a verdict of not guilty, and the Court awarded the costs against the government.

The libel case in which Brevet-Lieutenant-Colonel Caine, Lieutentant-Governor of the Colony, sued William Tarrant, editor of the Friend of China on September 17, 1859 created great interest. In the articcomplainedned on the sentence occurs that “Colonel Caine must either be one of two things, either the cleverest rascal that ever lived – a felon for whom transportation would be too light a punishment – ir he is a much-maligned man, and deserving of the sincerest pity.” And the charges were that he wanted a dollar per head from each inmate of Chinese brothels, ad lib.

That Brevet-Lieutenant-Colonel Caine, by the way, is indeed the same one Caine Road is named after. More on him another day; anyway, hope you enjoyed those. Until tomorrow!

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