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...

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