Monday, October 31, 2005

Hong Kong Letters in a Time of War

Happy Halloween everyone! When you're doorbell rings this evening, don't assume that it's a pesky property agent and get some candy ready instead.

Just a short post today - and speaking of posts, I was reading the report of the Post Office, written on October 31st, 1915. The report describes how the War (WWI) was affecting mail delivery, and it stimulated the dim memories of not having international calls, e-mail or mobile phones. Imagine with me, the troubled times of 1915 - good for business in Hong Kong, but one filled with terrible news, and of chaos on the mainland. Imagine then the city of Hong Kong, filled with immigrants and with people far from home, writing letters being their only contact with the world they once knew. We do take so much for granted - imagine a time when one read reports like these:
Considering the dangers to which shipping in the Home waters and in the Meidterannean has been exposed as a result of the German submarine policy the Colony was singularly fortunate in the matter of mails. All mails despatched from Hong Kong to the United Kingdom and vice versa arrived safely with the exception of the Peninsular and Oriental S.S. "Persia" and "Ville de la Ciotat", both of which ships were torpedoed in the Mediterranean towards the close of the year and two bags of mail on the S.S. "Hesperian" which was torpedoed in the Atlantic in September.
It seems in this age of instant information and gratification in which we live, one no longer has to live with the virtue of patience or of the ability to weather adversity and even worse, the absence of news or knowledge of loved ones with fortitude. May we continue to live in such times, and have the wisdom to ensure that our world remains so.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Opium in Hong Kong's Prisons

Hong Kong's chief medical authority says: opium isn't bad for you.

Only thing is, the report I refer to comes from 1887, when the Colonial Surgeon, Physician B.C. Ayres, was reporting on the opium smokers in Victoria Gaol. Yes that's right, the authorities saw no harm in allowing the prisoners access to the drug, not least because in their doped-up state they were much less likely to cause others or even themselves any trouble. Allow me to quote from the report of Dr. Ayres:
Among the opium smokers admitted into the jail, there were no deaths among them and no cases of Cholera occurred among them, enfeebled though they are supposed to be by this said to be pernicious habit, though they had exactly the same diet as the other prisoners and were distributed among those that were attacked [by the Cholera - Ed.]. The only cases worthy of note are first, one who was 60 years of age, had been an opium smoker for forty years, the longest time of the 75 who had come to the Gaol, smoked 3 mace per diem weight 85 lbs. on admission and the same after a month's confinement though he was subject to the penal diet the same as other prisoners, he was never on the sick list nor received any particular treatment to cure him of the habit.
The good Surgeon then gives more evidence of how some of the opium addicts actually gained weight while in prison and smoking their opium, eating only the same diet as other prisoners. He sums up his views on opium smoking later:
The habit in itself appears to be perfectly harmless. In conjunction with women, wine, late hours and gambling it is very possibly injurious, but in this case "it is not in it" to use a slang phrase, compared with tobacco as while indulging in this "pernicious" habit you must devote your whole attention to it and it alone. The opium hells of Europe and America combine more than one of these attractions as a rule. The great majority of opium smokers in China have this "vice" only and too much pity is wasted abroad which might well be spent at home. The "poor heathen Chinese" offers a better example than most Europeans, it is only a small minority even among the well-to-do that are not frugal and industrious in their habits, and sober in their enjoyments though they are opium smokers.
The more I read of the actual state of affairs in opium dens in China in the 19th and early 20th century, the more I come to the rather controversial conclusion that smoking the pipe really wasn't that bad, it was more other factors that turned opium smokers into wretched creatures.

And the Hong Kong government cannot in good faith disagree with me, surely, when it not only recognized opium smoking as a legal habit but made money off smokers for over one hundred years until 1946?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Why The Chief Executive's House is in Central

There has been some controversy over the last few months over why the government offices really need to be in Central, and why Donald Tsang needs a million-dollar fish pond for his goldfish (to ward off the evil feng shui from the Bank of China, of course, which was why Tung Chee-Hwa wouldn't move in), among other improvements to Government House. One answer to both questions is of course that the Chief Executive has always had his offices in Central, the heart of the city, and that his house has always been there too.

But how true is that statement? As I have mentioned before, the first residence of the Governor, and from where he transacted some of his business, was actually in Wanchai. Imagine the Donald with his bow-tie in late night work sessions at home with his, er, staff next to Joe Bananas! (that first residence, though, was on Spring Garden Lane, which today hosts a snake shop (for potency), a garbage collection centre and a very good sushi takeout joint).

Also, Governor Richard Graves Macdonnell was the first to build a summer house (Mountain Lodge, 1866) on the Peak, creating a virtual colonial stampede up to its rarefied environs - even though the Tram would not be built until 1888, and the trip required the services of 4 coolies for your sedan chairs. It was on Mount Austin Road, near where the Mount Austin condo development is today, just up the hill from the Peak tram station. Not all the Governors enjoyed their time there though. In the age before dehumidifiers, Governor (later Lord) Lugard thought it horrible that the rolling fog and humidity turned his cigars into sponges. Nevertheless, while they would live up at the Peak in Summer, most of them came down to Central for work. And after World War II, the aging, mostly wooden structure was deemed unsafe and dynamited, leaving only the foundations today.

But there was a time in the 1930s when the Governor's permanent residence almost moved away from Central. Sir William Peel, Governor from 1930 to 1935, created a new 'Governor's Retreat' in Fanling, being a keen golfer (like latter-day Governor Lord Wilson). Peel also mooted moving Government House to Magazine Gap - despite the fact that Hong Kong and the world had entered into a disastrous Depression. His successor, Sir Andrew Caldecott (the subject of yesterday's blog entry) wisely delayed the project, citing the paucity of government funds. His successor, Sir Geoffrey Northcote, revived the idea for the decaying mansion, but made several major changes to the plans. Before he could get started, though, he was forced to retire on grounds of ill-health, and his successor, Sir Mark Young, only had a few months before he became a Japanese POW.

So, it was left to incoming Japanese military Governor Rensuke Isogai to restore the decrepit house. He commissioned a Japanese architect, Seichi Fujimura, to do so, which explains the Japanese roof and tower in the building that remains to this day.

And so it's also thanks to a Japanese military governor that ensured that the Colony's chief executive stayed in Central,perhaps something the Donald may not want to bring up in casual conversation...

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Short Stint of Sir Andrew Caldecott

So, what happened in Hong Kong on October 26th? I'm a little at a loss today, so I shall fall back on discussing one lesser-known Governor whose birthday is today. (Apologies in advance to Cantopop fans, I am not discussing the birthday of heartthrob Aaron Kwok Fu-shing)

Hong Kong was fortunate in 1935 to obtain the services of a well-meaning, liberal-minded Governor named Sir Andrew Caldecott, born October 26th, 1884 in Kent. Caldecott had been a lifelong civil servant in the Malayan Civil Service, having risen up in the ranks since 1907 from working in the Labor Department to becoming the Officer Administering the Straits Settlements and High Commissioner for the Malay States in 1934. He was famous for being able to ease the often tense race relations between the Chinese and Malays, which probably explained a good deal of his upward career mobility. As one can see in Malaysia and Singapore, race considerations still play a fundamental role in government policymaking today.

He apparently made a point of taking up office here in Hong Kong in civilian clothes, the only other one to do so being Sir Christopher Patten in 1992. Unfortunately, because of an insurgency in Ceylon in 1937 that led to his reassignment there, Hong Kong was deprived of his services after less than two years, making his Governorship one of the shortest in history (that's why the only thing named after him is a short road on the way out to Tai Po). But even this short tenure was eventful - during this period, Hong Kong received its first schedule airplane service; the Queen Mary Hospital was inaugurated as an adjunct to the University of Hong Kong; and the Sino-Japanese War broke out in May 1937, causing a flood of over 100,000 refugees into the Colony.

Caldecott at this point was forced to leave to take care of an even greater emergency; his replacement was Sir Geoffrey Northcote. His legacy though, was a policy riddled with inconsistencies as to the treatment of the China-Japan question. Britain's position was neutrality, but it was becoming increasingly obvious that the Japanese certainly would not rule out harm towards British interests. Nevertheless, it was under Caldecott and later Northcote's administrations that Chinese demonstrating against Japanese aggression in China would be rounded up and arrested, in response to the voluble protests of the Japanese Consul. This policy strained relations between Britain and Nationalist China, and probably dented what small hope there was of Chinese relief during the Japanese attack on Hong Kong in December 1941.

Caldecott died in July 1951.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Case of the Missing Indian

Or should I say, the trunk. On October 24th, 1905, a century ago yesterday, the body of an Indian named Musta Kim was found in a trunk on the foreshore at Lai Chi Kok (now quite a bit inland). He had a bullet in his head, which presumably was the cause of death. According to the police report, 6 Indians were arrested, 3 were released and 3 later acquitted at the Criminal Sessions for lack of evidence. No arrest was ever made.

Then the next day, 100 years ago today, a carpenter named Lo Chi, aged 38, was found with a broken thigh outside of a now disappeared street named Yee Yick Lane. He was taken to the Government Civil Hospital where he died the next day. Apparently, Lo Chi had been in a house where there had been an argument over a woman. Several men became enraged and chased him; in order to avoid capture, he tried to climb into the adjoining house. A wooden support on which he was standing fell away and he fell into the street. One man was arrested, but was later released by the Magistrate.

I mention these lurid items in last century's police blotter not because they were common occurences, but actually because they were quite rare. By 1905, Hong Kong had become a rather safe place, much more settled than in previous decades, despite having a population of about half a million. They stood out so much that the Police Superintendent felt compelled to mention them in his report for the year. Certainly, the tendency to arrest and convict, and ask questions later, as described by Christopher Munn in his history of justice in early Hong Kong (see Anglo-China), had given way to more established guidelines on the rule of law.

That's all for today! Until the morrow...

Monday, October 24, 2005

Convention of Friendship Between Britain and China

The title sounds rather effusive and warm, doesn't it? Too bad it was the name of the treaty that ended the Second Opium War - like the first, a one-sided affair that ended again in humiliating defeat for China. This convention was signed 145 years ago today, on October 24th, 1860.

I've been through the 2nd Opium War before in these pages - essentially, the British were licensing Chinese merchants wanting to fly a British flag of neutrality during the Taiping Rebellion and allowing them to hoist a Union Jack on their merchant vessels. The Chinese stopped one, the Arrow, in 1856, and took the junk into custody. The colonial authorities saw this as an occasion to make right a number of issues that they had not imposed on the Chinese at the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, and to enforce some of that last treaty's conditions that the Chinese had not upheld. The Second Opium War dragged on for 4 years, with a brief interregnum in the middle where there had been some hope for peace. The coup de grace for the British was their joint attack with the French on Peking, and the razing of the Summer Palace to the ground.

But back to the treaty, the 'Convention of Friendship.' The most important new element geographically for Britain, and certainly for Hong Kong, was the permanent cession of Kowloon to the British. What makes this document seem rather bizarre to modern eyes is the fact that it reads more like a formal declaration of marriage, with China giving up her daughter Kowloon's hand:
"With a view to the maintenance of law and order in and about the harbour of Hong Kong, His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of China agrees to cede to Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland..., to have and to hold [! - Ed.] as a dependency of Her Britannic Majesty's colony of Hong Kong, that portion of the township of Cowloon, in the Province of Kwang-tung, of which a lease was granted in perpetuity of Mr. Harry Smith Parkes,... on behalf of Her Majesty's government... "
And so an extra 3.5 square miles of territory was added to the British crown, including Stonecutter's island in the harbour.

Sir Harry Parkes, incidentally, had started his career as a young orphan who had come to Macau aged 13 during the 1st Opium War to learn Chinese. He was a keen student of the Chinese language, but not of the Chinese culture; according to author P.D. Coates, "to the 25-year-old Parkes the shrill whistling and belching of steam by a high-pressure British steamer at Canton seemed a tangible contradiction of his fusty, malodorous teacher's belief that Confucius was the ruling genius of the world."

Harry Parkes in fact had been the one more responsible than anyone else for the start of the 2nd Opium War. What seemed a very defusable situation regarding the Arrow incident was turned into a crisis when Parkes, in his 1856 position as the British Consul in Canton, demanded a very public, humiliating apology from China. This is what he had to say to his missionary brother-in-law in a letter:
"The finger of One who rules the destinies of races is clearly traceable in the whole affair. It is the cause of the West against the East, of Paganism against Christendom, and what may we not look to see as the result? The opening of China indeed, I trust."
Shades of today's neocon imperialists, I should think, bringing God and manifest destiny to bear on a global scale. And yes, in case you were wondering, Parkes Street in the red-light area of Jordan near Kowloon Park is named after this Victorian political moralist.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Governor Stubbs and the Bolsheviks

Hong Kong's colonial government was very much of the conservative school when it came to spending, even when London had moved towards a more socialist system. This was embodied in a speech I read by Governor Sir Reginald Stubbs (yes, of Stubbs Road fame) in October 1925 when he announced the Budget for 1926. It also reminds us that supply-side economics have been with us for some time (although not the malignant Bush version that also raises spending at the same time as cutting taxes).

Now Hong Kong had just gone through an incredibly painful labor dispute, organized by leftists that at that time were still aligned with the KMT in Guangzhou. The massive walkout brought the Colony to its knees, and ultimately resulted in a humiliating capitulation of the British government to worker demands. However, the British government remained unbowed, and believed that the blame lay with the KMT and their Communist allies rather than with their own policies.

Let me quote from this fascinating Budget speech, where Sir Reggie not only states his belief that the labor stoppage was a one-time event, but that the Cantonese can be expected to repudiate the KMT and the Communists and ultimately go back to some form of local government (He was of course to be disappointed):
In framing the Estimate for Revenue in 1926 I have considered that I am justified that conditions during at least the greater part of the year will be normal... I cannot believe that the intelligent people of Kwangtung - a race which has been famous for centuries for its commercial ability and commercial sense - can be content much longer to put up with the oppression of a regime imposed from outside and supported by mercenaries from other provinces and I think it is not being oversanguine for the establishment of good order by the end of this year or early in the next.
And now for everyone's favorite bugbear, taxes. How has Hong Kong maintained such a low level, and flat, at that, of income taxes? One reason, of course, is the property taxation system. But another has been the parsimonious spending of Colonial governments, a tradition still generally continued on with today. Let Sir Reggie speak for himself:
May I, in conclusion, say a few words to forestall an obvious criticism? It may reasonably be asked is it not possible, considering that many of the works which have been excised from the programme are of great value and importance to the Colony, to take the alternative course of providing additional funds so as to enable them to be carried out. I have given this question much anxious thought and have formed a decided opinion that for the present at any rate the right course is to reduce expenditure rather than to increase income. Admittedly the inhabitants of the Colony are lightly taxed as the members of any community in the world and in normal times I should have had no hesitation in advising that, if our revenues, on the present basis, were insufficient for the carrying out of the large programme of public improvements which we have in contemplation, further funds should be provided by either an increase in taxation or by the issue of a loan or by a combination of both methods. As things are however, I am of opinion that any increase in taxation should be avoided. Most classes of the community have been hard hit by the troubles of the past four months, and if there is any considerable number of persons who have more money than is required for their immediate needs it will, I think, be more in the interests of the community that they should employ it in facilitating the resumption of trade by financing commercial operations. The more loose money there is available in the Colony the easier and quickly will be the return to normal trade conditions...[italics are mine - Ed.]

There remains the question of whether it would be wise to raise the money by loan. For the present I advise against any attempt to do so... It would be far wiser to wait until conditions approach the normal and not to endeavour to raise money until it has been made clear to the public that the efforts of the Bolsheviks to ruin Hong Kong have ended in failure.
Sir Reggie clearly knew what he was doing, because Hong Kong did indeed quickly get back on its feet a year or so later.

He certainly was no Keynesian, but nor was he a hallucinogenic member of Bush II's accounting team, spending like a drunken sailor while cutting taxes, financing the deficit with help from the country Bush himself identified as its most important strategic competitor. Of course, as I demonstrated in a blog on Sir Alexander Grantham and the Shek Kip Mei fire, the Hong Kong government would eventually have to make allowances for social needs. But the tax policy of the city has remained low thanks to a very circumscribed social safety net, a policy that has served it well to this day.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Returning to Hong Kong on United

I'm back! Despite the best efforts of United. Before I resume regular service, let me relate my travel experience and pose a question to my cosmopolitan, debonaire audience.

Every time I despair at airfares in this part of the world, please remind me of the chaos that has infected the domestic and international flights of the United States. A quick jaunt on any airline in the US or on a low-cost carrier in Europe may be cheap, but you are in generally for a rough experience and are certainly not guaranteed to arrive at your destination at anytime close to the alleged arrival time - that is considered more a suggestion nowadays, or perhaps more accurately, a product of a wishful imagination.

I was booked on travel from Nashville to Hong Kong via Chicago on United. The flight from Nashville Monday morning was almost on time, and actually got to Chicago early. But the balance was restored to that mind-blowing karmic event by my subsequent connection - UA 895 from Chicago to Hong Kong. When I arrived at the gate at 10:00 am, I thought it was a bad sign that it said 'Honolulu' instead of Hong Kong. Not that I would have minded that destination, particularly, except that other than its first three letters and that fact that Hawai'i is a chain of islands, it has very little indeed to do with Hong Kong. Bad sign #2 was that there was a flight to Beijing that was 6 hours delayed. Bad sign #3 was that the pilots and crew came, went to the desk, and walked back out almost immediately, muttering under their breath things like "Not good!" and "Let's go for a long lunch!", followed by a PA announcement that a 'decision would be made at noon about the prospects for flight UA 895 to Hong Kong.'

Bad sign #4 (the Chinese number that sounds like death - it certainly was the nail in the coffin): an announcement came over the PA that due to mechanical problems, the flight would not take off until tomorrow. They gave us vouchers for the airport hotel, and for breakfast, lunch and dinner (although at $3, $5 and $7 respectively these were not much except minor subsidies). The hapless employees made it all too clear this was not an uncommon occurence.

The hotel was fine, and given that Chicago was the city of my birth, diverting myself there for a few hours was not too difficult. What bowled me over though was that when I returned to the airport the next day and asked for the gate for my cancelled flight, the customer service attendant got stroppy and said: "First of all, the flight was not cancelled - it was just delayed." A 21 hour delay, in our case. Sometimes it seems there is something to be said for the age of the ocean liner. Why, oh why, do I keep going back for more punishment when this sort of thing never ever happens on Cathay?

I realize United is still in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings, but I can't help but wonder why it seems their employees, instead of serving customers and turning on the charm, are asking instead for sympathy and pity for performing a Sisyphean task.

As my partner Stefan likes to say, "Why is that America can do so well in the hotel hospitality business, but can't run an airline to save their lives?"

Any ideas?

Thursday, October 06, 2005

A Hiatus from Hong Kong

Sadly, I must relinquish regular blogcasts from this site for about a week starting tomorrow. I am off to the US, part vacation, part wedding attendance, part visiting family, and part marketing trip. I hope this readership will forgive my temporary absence. I shall try anyway to log on and post once or twice on the trip. And forgive my rather downbeat penultimate post, this always happens to me just before I leave for vacation.

All the Best!

What Causes Bird Flu?

There was an interesting article in the Standard today about how a particularly virulent form of bird flu could cause a global pandemic that could make, in the words of Health Secretayr York Chow, "the world collapse."

This blog is normally a space for heritage discussions, but given that SARS was indelibly seared into the consciousness of every Hong Kong resident, it seems a fair forum for taking a look at this issue.

All of the measures discussed thus far have involved preventing the rapid spread of this disease, and quarantining those infected effectively. Where proactive prevention is concerned, it seems the only solution mooted thus far is the innoculation of chickens at risk. To me, this is madness.

Why do you or I get sick? When do we get the flu? It is almost always when we are stressed and when our resistance is low. It is of course the same case with chickens.

Now does it not occur to anyone in the Health Department here that if we humans were stuffed in cages with 20 more of us, the cages stacked 5 or 6 high, with no room to move, and everyone defecating and urinating on each other, that that might possibly constitute a 'stressful' situation?

No, of course not. Chickens are all the same, aren't they? Chickens have been crapping and peeing on each other since the Jurassic Era. They like it, in fact. Don't you? I'm told some humans pay for services like that sometimes.

What rubbish. Of course chickens are going to get sick and give germs to each other if we keep them in filthy, completely insalubrious conditions. If the "world will end" upon the outbreak of a virulent strain of bird flu, isn't it time we stopped the chicken sellers and farmers from keeping them in such a shockingly unhealthy way? It won't cost much for the government to at least conduct an experiment to see whether free-range chickens are healthier and less prone to disease than ones stuffed in cages.

I guess this is Hong Kong though, where the chicken cages in the markets remind locals of their own 400 square foot apartments.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Captain Caine, the "Big Man" of Hong Kong

Many of you Mid-Levels denizens of Hong Kong must be familiar with Caine Road, the traffic artery that carries a great deal of traffic from Central's hills towards the University of Hong Kong and the Western part of the island. But how much do you know of the stern, authoritarian miliary man that whose reputation for tough punishment dovetailed nicely with his name? Captain William Caine became Hong Kong's very own Dirty Harry, patrolling the streets of Hong Kong at night, arresting offenders, sentencing them to prison in his second role as magistrate, and then punishing them with rod, whip and prison, and if necessary, stringing them up to the noose in his third role as Superintendent of the Gaol. When Chinese were asked who was in charge of the Colony of Hong Kong, the 'Dai Yun', or Big Man, they would answer immediately: 'Caine'. In their excellent 1982 book, Colin Crisswell and Mike Watson had this to say of the man:
Captain Caine, an officer experienced in the maintenance of army discipline, took the conventional view and accepted that the vigorous employment of the lash and the noose was the best, if not the only means, of impressing the criminal class with the majesty of the law.
The more observant of you may have noted that: 1) the Central police station, the Magistracy and the Victoria Gaol are located together on the same block; and that 2) the entire complex is built like an armed fort, incongruous near the bars on Hollywood Road; and 3) that the southern edge of the square compound adjoins Caine Road. All three have everything to do with this notorious Captain Caine, and the fact the highest point of the complex touches a road named after him is fitting indeed. Because he was the magistrate, the head police officer and jailer, and he selected the complex's position for its ability to resist Chinese rioters and armed conflict.

He was born in 1798 to a poor family, and at the age of 6 apparently became a drummer boy. He apparently participated as a teenager with the 26th Cameronian Regiment of Foot in the Peninsular War against Napoleon in Spain. Later with that Regiment, he shipped out to China to participate in the Opium War in 1839. In 1841, the British authorities were impressed with this disciplinarian and his devotion to duty and he agreed to leave his life-long military career to become the first Magistrate of Hong Kong (thanks to HK-lawyer for the Caine Photo!), as well as head up its first police force.

Now this was a ratty lot, mostly cast-offs from the army, unemployed sailors, Western drunkards and other ne'er do wells. And somehow, he had to make this lot of 35 officers a reputable bunch on a total collective salary of 1,400 pounds a year in a climate where Westerners were literally dying like flies; this naturally was impossible.

So this corrupt, lazy lot was particularly ill-suited to deal with a population that largely only spoke Cantonese, many of whom were from the lower ranks of Chinese societies (First Treasurer of Hong Kong, Montgomery Martin, described the first Chinese as: "There is, in fact, a continual shifting of a Bedouin sort of population whose migratory, predatory, gambling and dissolute habits utterly unfit them for continuous industry and render them not only useless but highly injurious subjects, in the attempt to form a colony.").

Nevertheless, Captain Caine took to his task with relish. Allow me again to quote Crisswell and Watson:
Caine had set about his arduous task with his usual vigour and efficiency. He was to be found working at all hours of the night and frequently patrolled the streets himself. In demeanour he was gentlemanly and dignified; in the application of justice, impartial and severe. It was doubtless true that imprisonment was no deterrent to the criminal element so Caine resorted to the wholesale application of corporal punishment. …even one local paper observed that the magistrates ‘mete out justice according to the judgement which God has been pleased to grant them; equitably in their own opinion no doubt…law, there is none.’ Caine did not manage to check the crime wave to any marked extent but he did succeed in instilling some fear into the hearts of lawbreakers.
It is no wonder that Caine patrolled the streets in the early days, when his office was a mere hut:
Caine’s first office was only a matshed. It was immediately adjacent to the site of the present Central Police Station on ground about 300 feet above sea level. One of the fears of the authorities was of rioting by the Chinese and it was considered that this site, protected by rocky ravines on two sides with a ridge to the front running down to the harbour, was relatively secure from attack. The main European quarter grew up below it. After a few months the matshed was replaced by a granite gaol. The building contained one large room where the chain gang was confined at night.
Caine was later elevated to Colonial Secretary and Auditor General and relieved of his patrolling duties (his jobs were later broken up and appointed to different successors), but continued to voice strong opinions about law enforcement. He remained in service until 1859, when he finally retired and returned to England. One of the last Governors to enjy his services, Sir John Bowring, evidently felt a mixture of admiration and revulsion for this unreconstructed authoritarian. Allow me to quote from Crisswell and Watson one final time:
Governor Sir John Bowring said of [Caine], not long before his retirement in 1859, that ‘though he shakes his head and perceives infinite difficulties, it is always with good humour.’ He added that Caine was ‘of the old – the very old – school’ and was ‘uninformed of what is passing and has passed in England,’ presumably a reference to the more humane and liberal system of law enforcement and of government generally which by that time was being introduced in Britain.
How effective was he? Crime did not fall much under his watch. But the Colony of Hong Kong also grew remarkably during his tenure as both enforcer and senior civil servant, and he created order when the potential for chaos was very high. Today one views his discriminatory measures against the Chinese with some distaste; but in a way, he was doing his best to carry out the initial British promise to govern the Chinese according to Chinese laws and customs. I wonder how many others would have done better when placed in his position?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Grantham and the Shek Kip Mei Fire

Today marks the 27th year since the death of former Hong Kong Governor Alexander Grantham. He was the longest serving Governor in Hong Kong history, holding down his job for 10 years between 1947 and 1957. Yet today he is only dimly remembered, chiefly for the Grantham Hospital in Wong Chuk Hang, one teaching college named after him and the medical clinic named after his first wife Maurine Grantham in Tsuen Wan.

A few of you may remember that I blogged about him a couple of months ago. It was in the context of him bursting his predecessor's plans for introducing democracy in Hong Kong. He had a low opinion of such ideas, smacking as they did of postwar idealism. He planned to steady the British ship of state in the Colony amidst an enormous refugee problem and the complicated geopolotical situation of the Korean War, where British and Chinese soliders killed each other in Korea but remained peaceful on the Lo Wu border. In his view, allowing democracy would only destabilize Hong Kong, particularly given the influx of new migrants from China.

Grantham chose to turn his back on representative government, believing that as long as the British delivered good, conservative government, the city would remain a free, progressive and stable place. But a challenge to this decision were not far off. On Christmas Day 1953, a massive conflagration broke out amongst the squatters' huts on the Kowloon hillside of Shek Kip Mei. The 50,000 people left homeless by the disaster forced the traditionally laissez-faire government of prewar Hong Kong, one that turned its back to socialist ideals in the 1930s when Britain itself embraced them wholeheartedly.

The alternative would have been to risk a threat to British legitimacy, given the already painful privations that many of the new Chinese immigrants had been through in the past decade, and the social unrest that might have ensued. Also, globally the climate had changed in the wake of massive decolonization; even China had thrown off imperialist influences and were challenging those very countries, including Britain, in a nearby battlefield. From that perspective, since Grantham was not going to offer self-determination to the Hong Kong Chinese, the hurdle for good government had become much greater. It was for that reason that Grantham, a conservative Victorian at heart, had to give way to popular calls for public housing. So it was then, that the stingy pursestrings of the Hong Kong government embarked on a massive housing subsidy for its poor population, one that remains in place to this day.

I find it interesting that many histories of Hong Kong written by local Chinese regard the Shek Kip Mei fire as the birth of the modern city. It must be because it was in the wake of this tragedy that Britain was forced to consider the social welfare of its Chinese citizens for the first time, and acknowledge that they had rights as the governed, for which those governing, like Grantham, had to fulfill. It was the first true social contract that acknowledged the Chinese not just as residents, but as citizens, of Hong Kong.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Seattle's Finest Chinese Cuisine

Or is it? How could I resist putting up this picture my business partner Stefan took while roaming the streets of the first city that ushered in the time-honoured tradition of WTO rioting? He took it in a sketchy part of Seattle, nicely capturing a couple of locals exiting what looks to be a highly distressing dining experience...

Prostitution in Hong Kong, Circa 1925

While I have demurred thus far in providing a history of prostitution in Hong Kong (as I've been requested several times on this blog), since I was reading about the way the industry was organized 80 years ago I thought I'd share it with you. I am neither condoning nor condemning the practice; rather it is interesting when you read this to think about how the system has evolved into its present state today, in its circumvention of colonial regulations finally banning brothels in the late 1930s (with a consequent skyrocketing of the VD rate amongst the soldiers!).

Allow me to quote from Norman Miners' excellent tome, Hong Kong Under Imperial Rule, 1912-1941:
...By 1923 a highly complex system of regulation had been elaborated. The system was so well established that when the Colonial Office asked for information in that year in order to reply to a parliamentary question a full account was sent to London. The Hong Kong government was quite open in describing its system of regulating prostitution and was obviously unconcerned or ignorant of the fact that the Secretary of State had ordered an almost identical system to be abolished 30 years earlier.
Miners then goes on to explain the system:
The administration described the arrangements as being based on the recognition of the impossibility of stopping prostitution but of the need for broad supervision to prevent abuse. The Secretary for Chinese Affairs kept a full list of tolerated houses, their mistresses, and their 'inmates'. Brothels were classified into those catering for Europeans (with subclasses of those with European, Japanese or Chinese prostitutes), brothels for Indians, and brothels for Chinese (subdivided into first-class, second-class and third-class houses). The Secretariat fixed the charges which the mistresses might levy on their girls for board and lodging. All those wishing to practise the profession had to attend before the Secretary for Chinese Affairs, bringing three photographs with them, and they were closely questioned to ensure that they were entering the profession of their own free will. When the authority was satisfied on this point, and that the girl was over 19 years of age [the age seems to have gone down! - Ed.], she was given a card showing her number, name and address, to which one photograph was attached. One photograph was retained by the Secretariat and the third by the brothel mistress, who pasted it in a record book kept in the brothel. The girl was also given a card informing her that she was free to leave the profession at any time and could appeal to the authorities for protection in the case of any ill-treatment.
The amazing bit is the process for weeding out VD, and the eminent practicality of this holdover from the Victorian age:
If any client complained to the Secretariat that he had been infected with venereal disease by a licensed prostitute the girl would instructed to attend for a hospital examination; if she was found to be diseased her card was taken from her and her record was removed from the house book until she had received hospital treatment and was considered to be cured. There was never any difficulty in compelling the girl to receive treatment since the mistress of the brothel knew that her house would be liable to closure if she was found to be employing a girl without a card and she was also herself liable to be fined if she allowed a diseased prostitute to work in the premises under her control.
The system for the European brothels were the most amusing:
Stricter controls were enforced by the police on prostitutes catering for Europeans. Their brothels were confined to a particular area in the eastern end of the city and the girls were expected to attend for a weekly examination by a firm of private medical practitioners in the area. In addition to the sanctions imposed by the Secretariat for Chinese Affairs, brothels could be put out of bounds to servicemen by the naval and military authorities if a soldier or sailor suffering from venereal disease identified the girl he had patronized; each girl was required to keep a book in which every client was supposed to enter his name and address and the time of his visit [an interesting book! - Ed.] and these books were open to inspection by the police and military authorities whenever a complaint was made.
Not really such a bad system; I've always believed that legalization would create a better environment for treatment of venereal disease, while the social stigma attached to prostitution would remain a high barrier to career entry. If one accepts that the industry will always exist, maybe it should be reinstated! It might certainly get rid of the streetwalkers outside my Tsim Sha Tsui office on Nathan Road...