Wednesday, December 13, 2006
The talk is entitled:
Postcolonial "Imagined Communities" --- The Curiously Divergent Stories Of Hong Kong and Singapore
The talk will be given in English. Please also join us for a self-paying dinner to be held after the talk. More details can be found below.
POSTCOLONIAL "IMAGINED COMMUNITIES"
The Curiously Divergent Stories
Of Hong Kong and Singapore
An Anthropological Talk by David Wong and Stefan White
Thursday, 14 Dec. 2006 at 7:00 PM
To be held at The Hong Kong Museum of History,
Lecture Theatre, Ground Floor, 100 Chatham Road South, Tsim Sha Tsui
All are welcome
(space is, however, limited to 140 seats)
Both Singapore and Hong Kong were British colonial entrepôt ports
started in the first half of the 19th century, with many similarities in their history and governance. Both were made colonies of Britain in a contested manner and inherited positive and negative legacies of colonialism. But while Singapore has recreated an "imagined community," based on the founding myth of Sir Stamford Raffles over the last four decades, Hong Kong has yet to create a compelling historical narrative that serves as a unifying mythology for its citizens. In the talk, the speakers will explore the creation process and the realities of these two historical narratives, and how their existence impacts on each city's ability to attract cultural or heritage tourists.
David Wong and Stefan White operate Walk the Talk, an interpretive heritage service, in Hong Kong and Singapore.
Following the lecture, you are invited to a self-paying dinner with the speaker.
This talk is a joint presentation of
THE HONG KONG ANTHROPOLOGICAL SOCIETY
THE HONG KONG MUSEUM OF HISTORY
Thursday, December 07, 2006
“Bands of Robbers attempted to carry out their attempts by tunneling from the large drains under the premises which they had marked. There was a rumor of a scheme to re-enact the gunpowder plot by means of a tunnel under the cathedral, when the governor, the bishop, and the congregation were to be blown up. The facts of this case, however, if there were any, I could never satisfactorily ascertain. The most successful exploit of this kind was perpetrated so late as January 1865, by a gang who tunneled by the hard labour of several weeks right under the treasury of the Central Bank ofPerhaps it explains why Hong Kong to this day does not have a centralized manhole system, requiring endless rounds of construction to dig up and put back roads while workers lay cables and fix rusty pipes...
, and carried of upwards of $100,000 in gold bullion and notes. In 1863 twenty-two prisoners made their escape from the gaol by tunneling under it into a drain; and no long after, I did the service to the Government of disconcerting a scheme on a larger scale, by which within a few hours, eighty-nine men would have got away." India
Friday, December 01, 2006
I was reading an account by Reverend James Legge from a speech he made in 1872 about his having lived in Hong Kong since 1843. He had some fascinating insights about why relations between China and the West had gone so badly, and why relations with Japan at that time were so positive. It would be an oversimplification to say that the Chinese unwillingness to emulate Western organizations, technologies and methods in the 19th century were due to the Opium War, but the Rev. Legge certainly makes a plausible case:
...we have given the Japanese little reason to do anything but love us, while we have given China much reason to fear us and hate us. I am not here tonight to express my views on the opium traffic, but I may surely ask, without giving offence to any one, whether, if we had forced that traffic on Japan as we have done on China, the relations between Japan and 'foreign' nations whould be what they are to-day. If there be a man here who thinks that there does not glow in me as true a British patriotism as in himself, I only say he does not know me; but I thank God that the United States preceded us in the opening of the Japanese Empire. Their treaty of the 29th July, 1858, recognizes the prohibition of the importation of opium, and that made by Lord Elgin [who prosecuted the 2nd Opium War for Britain - Ed.], on the 27th of the following month, does the same, and with a very stringent addition. Thus one thing which has embittered and fettered our intercourse with China, and will continue to do so, so long as it exists, has had no place in our intercourse with Japan; and the result has been accordingly.It is interesting to note also that Rev. Legge must have felt that his strong statement would have caused offense in at least some of his listeners, because it was considered 'unpatriotic' to think of the Opium War as an unjustified impression of British commerce upon an unwilling China. It reminds me of American liberals circa 2003 having to defend their patriotism while at the same time opposing the Iraq war.
As my late, great professor of colonial history, Robin Winks, once said, so much of relations between races and civilizations depends on first contact. If today we still find those hostile to Westerners in China, those feelings may have their sad beginnings in 1839, the year the Opium War broke out and brought the existence of Western 'barbarians' to the attention to China at large.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Just wondering what Dave could find out about the houses of Eu Tong-sen? He built three primary residences: Eucliffe Castle in Repulse Bay; Euston on Bonham Road; and Sirmio in Tai Po. I'm just curious as to where Sirmio was in Tai Po, as all his houses have been demolished (Eucliffe is now a housing development, and Euston is now Euston Court). I'd also like to be able to find any photos of Sirmio if possible...perhaps Dave can point me in the right direction?
Damian, I shall tell you what I can of Eu Tong Sen's houses, which is not a great deal, but also of the man behind the buildings. I'm afraid Sermio, being Eu Tong Sen's 'getaway' villa residence in the New Territories, was the building least written about, and I have very little information about it. Sermio was named for an ancient village (today called Sermione) on a promontory on the shores of Lake Garda, in northern Italy - I'd imagine Mr. Eu must have visited and kept the name for the villa for that reason. I suspect though that since it was on the approach to Tai Po, with a view of Tolo Harbour, the villa was perched somewhere along the old Tai Po road where Chinese University stands today. Many of Hong Kong's older money bought homes in that area - the surviving ones though are largely to the left of the roundabout when you come up the road from the Shatin racecourse area. Someone else may be able to give you a more exact address!
As for Eu Tong Sen, he was quite the character. He was a cosmopolitan man of the world, a connoiseur of the Western good life. By the time he moved to Hong Kong circa 1930, he had already ensured his family's fortune. Born in 1877 in Perak, in Penang, he inherited his father's Chinese medicine business, which was called the Yan Sang medical shop. It was felt that these remedies could be a strong substitute for the opium which many poor Chinese laborers resorted to for their aches and pains. They did rather well, and opened branches in Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh and Seremban in the early 1900s, and then Hong Kong in 1909, and Singapore the following year. Shops on the mainland also followed. Basically, he created a very early example of a southeast Asian business empire catering to the overseas Chinese.
What is interesting though, is that although Eu Yan Sang (which is what Mr. Eu renamed the company to indicate that it was a family business that should be run by future generations of Eus) is the only remaining visible part of that empire, and was what the man was most famous for, it seems that most of his money was made by other means. Before the 1890s, the family business actually made a good deal more money out of tax farming, which it undertook on behalf of the Sultans of Malaya under British auspices. Later in the 20th century, the network of shops throughout the Chinese diaspora in Asia put Mr. Eu's business in a great position to handle remittances, and was one of the greatest handlers of such money before World War II, much as Western Union works today for the Filipina helpers in Hong Kong. It was only after World War II, when war and revolution had changed the dynamics of the Chinese networks throughout Asia, that it was Eu Yan Sang that carried the empire for Eu Tong Sen's descendants.
But what of his houses, you may ask? As you point out, Mr. Eu had built three palatial houses in Hong Kong throughout the lean decade of the 1930s in Hong Kong. Euston on Bonham Road; Eucliffe, on the northern side of Repulse Bay, and Sirmio in Tai Po. Local historian Jason Wordie in his excellent 'Streets of Hong Kong' book points out the rumor that Eu Tong Sen was told that he would not die as long as he kept building houses. It nevertheless did not stop him from dying in 1941, on the eve of the Japanese Invasion.
However, I have a feeling that whoever the fortuneteller was, he was animated by a practical consideration for Mr. Eu's health - he had 5 official wives with him in Hong Kong, an unknown number of concubines, and at least 34 official children. So he was as prolific in his offspring as he was with his engineering works! Not only did he need to house the product of his loins and the women that delivered them, he also probably needed to maintain multiple residences to keep outbreaks of discord from rearing their ugly heads. The fortune teller, therefore, probably thought this might help Mr. Eu to keep building. The fissures that must have existed while he was alive broke into the open after his death, with family squabbles that continued with lawsuits all the way until 1996. That was the year that several cousins, whose grandfather and/or great-grandfather was Mr. Eu, chose to buy out the business of Eu Yan Sang from outside investors (that had bought the separate bits from older generation family members) and consolidate operations in Hong Kong, Singapore and elsewhere.
An interesting bit of trivia is that the statue that is supposed to represent John Osborn of the Winnipeg Grenadiers, the VC recipient, according again to the redoubtable Mr. Wordie, was actually a statue of a World War I soldier that stood in the gardens of Eucliffe. He was donated to the Hong Kong government by the family after the war when they sold the Eucliffe site, and he underwent a transformation to become Mr. Osborn. Perhaps it is fitting though, for he was also a young sailor that was present at the Battle of Jutland in World War I.
The war connection is also grimly fitting because of the Japanese outrage that occurred on the site of the Eucliffe mansion during the desperate fighting between Allied and Japanese forces around the Repulse Bay area in the days before Christmas, when the East and West Brigades were effectively split in two. Allow me to end with this quote from Tony Banham, in his labor of love, Not the Slightest Chance:
“The prisoners were taken to Eucliffe, a Chinese millionaire’s castle on the north shore of Repulse Bay. Having been beaten up by rifle butts, their hands were tightly bound behind their backs and they were prodded forward with bayonets to the edge of the cliff. They were then forced to sit facing the sea with their feet dangling over the edge. “We knew that we were going to be shot because on top of the bank were pools of blood and at the bottom of the cliff there were dozens of bodies,” stated Company Sergeant Major Hamlon of the Royal Rifles at the post-war War Crimes Trial. “It was evident that they had been shot on top of the cliff and fallen down. Then a firing squad came forward and we were all shot. Owing to the fact that I turned my head to the left as I was being fired at, the bullet passed through my neck and came out of my right cheek. I did not lose consciousness and the force of the bullet hitting me knocked me free from the others and I rolled down the cliff.” He lay at the cliff’s foot bleeding all day until dark when he moved “a mess of blood” into a dank cave where he remained shivering as Japanese sentries patrolled above. Later 54 bodies were found in the area. Many had been shot, others bayoneted to death and the rest beheaded."This grisly episode may explain why the Repulse Bay area (and apparently also even Euston Court) are said to be haunted...though I know nothing of that!
Saturday, November 25, 2006
I would like to ask Dave what should be the correct pronounciation of D'Aguilar as in D'Aguilar Street and where did the name come from?Many people probably wonder at the provenance of this particular name, especially when they are walking up D'Aguilar Street for some drinks and conviviality in Lan Kwai Fong! General Sir George Charles D'Aguilar (DAG ee LAR), KCB, served in Her Majesty's forces during the Opium War, and upon cessation of hostilities, became the General Officer Commanding (as a Major-General) Her Majesty's troops in Hong Kong. Through the tenure of both Governor Pottinger and Governor Davis, he was in charge of the Army Garrison in Hong Kong. He was also the Lieutenant Governor of the Colony during that period, setting a precedent that would remain for much of the 19th century.
He was a proud, forthright military man, and was a veteran campaigner of 40 years of operations in the East Indies, India, the Napoleonic Wars and several other engagements. He did not have much patience for the opium merchants of Hong Kong, including those of Jardine Matheson. Because of the high early crime rate, merchants had engaged guards as night watchmen, and those of the Princely Hong would bang on two bamboo poles to indicate their presence to would-be robbers. This sound, however, disturbed the nocturnal rest of General D'Aguilar, and he forbade the merchants' guards from doing any such thing.
His house, by the way, was Flagstaff House, today the Museum of Tea Ware in Hong Kong park. It was then called Headquarters House (until the 1930s) home of the General Officers of the Colony. Cape D'Aguilar is also named after him, as is, funnily enough 'Bar George' in Lan Kwai Fong! He was the son of an S. D'Aguilar, Esq. of Liverpool, born in about 1780 and living into his 80s. The name D'Aguilar, though, from my research, appears to be of Sephardic origin - I believe the family was originally of a prominent Portuguese Jewish family. Their descendants seem to have gone to Holland, Austria, England and Brazil. The original pronounciation may have been a little different as 'de Aguilar'.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Yet it has always been part of deliberate government policy to keep transport charges as low as possible. I found a fascinating document from 1901, entitled, "Report of Commission on Chair and Jinricksha coolies," which basically complained about how the coolies running the chairs, following a strike they undertook a few years previous, were unwilling to take passengers for the same low fares they enjoyed in the good old days of the 1880s. These men were literally taking passengers on the power of their muscles alone, and of course our sympathies today are with the coolies. But things were not so clear to the Legislative Councillors enquiring about the cost of a chair:
At present, the minimum ricksha fare is 5 cents for a quarter of an hour. If a person takes a ricksha from the Clock Tower [a landmark then at the corner of Queen's Road and Pedder Street, demolished in 1911 - Ed.] to the Hongkong Club or Hongkong Bank [Christ, it's a 5 minute walk! - Ed.] he must pay 5 cents.So these checks were like Club Med beads...except not really at all.
This seems to be an unnecessarily large fare. We therefore advocate ricksha rates of 2, 3, and 5 cents for 5, 10 and 15 minutes respectively. Distance fares, as in the case of garis [an Indian term for a horse-drawn cab - Ed.], might also be introduced. The difficulty of carrying the necessary money can be overcome by adopting a system of checks for these several amounts. These checks should be saleable at the Treasury and Police Stations in Colony and could be redeemed by the coolies on presentation at the Treasury in office hours.
Greatcare would have to be taken to guard against the acceptance, for redemption, of forged checks, not issued by the Treasury or a Police Station.
While I have not yet tracked down the past ownership of the building, I did stumble across the 'ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat', Hemlock, of course, talking about Sir Gordon's vanity project. He referred to Kennedy Road as "a road designed for rickshaws." Indeed, he is correct inthat it was not meant for real traffic, and even rickshaws were banned. In 1883, a regulation was made by the Governor to the effect that:
1. No wheeled Vehicles or Horses shall be allowed on the Promenade known as Kennedy Road.There were evidently problems with people and/or other sedan chairs, borne entirely by sets of 2, 4, or 6 profusely straining coolies (depending on the obesity of the occupant), knocking each other over. They hadn't thought of everything, though, because Governor Bowen added this regulation to the mix in 1887:
2. In no case shall more than two Chairs be allowed to go abreast on this road.
3. No kites shall be flown from this road.One can only imagine the horror and tragedy.
All of which draw attention to the fact that the road was certainly not meant for heavy traffic. Certainly, Sir Gordon's building of over 2000 rooms on that road would be rather a major burden added to congestion in the area. His suggestion that at peak morning hours, only 6 trips by car for every 100 rooms would originate from the hotel's entrance on Kennedy Road was rather... optimistic.
* Update *
This regulation was finally repealed in 1898 after some widening of the road, but only for rickshas and such:
1. The regulations made by the Governor-in-Council on the 20th day of May, 1887, are hereby repealed.So, rickshas were alright, but not if they went too fast. And flying a kite on Kennedy Road was still out, as was having a sedan chair race!
2. In no case shall more than two Chairs be allowed to go abreast on Kennedy Road.
3. No kites shall be flown from Kennedy Road.
4. Wheeled vehicles will be allowed on Kennedy Road. The expression "wheeled vehicle," as used in these Regulations, shall mean a ricksha, bicycle, tricycle, or other similar machine, and a perambulator or other similar machine.
5. Wheeled vehicles must go round the bends of Kennedy Road at a moderate speed.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
I was fortunate enough also last week to go on a junk trip to Lamma that started from Queen's Pier, sadly like the Star Ferry no longer permitted to go on. It was a great trip except for the very beginning - the choppiness of the harbour was incredible, far worse than I remember it, and will only get worse still as the harbour shrinks further due to land reclamation.
When the ferry first started in the 1870s or early 1880s (nobody quite knows when) thanks to Dorabjee Naorojee, the distance between Hong Kong and Kowloon seemed vast. This Parsee immigrant was the first cross-harbour commuter, as his hotel concerns and office were on Hong Kong side, but his home and family were on Kowloon side in Tsim Sha Tsui. He was reminded of the 'Evening Star' in the Alfred Lord Tennyson poem 'Crossing the Bar' every evening that it was time to go home for dinner, and named his first ferry boat 'Evening Star' in its honour.
The journey shall still go on, but it will be shorter than before, and it will terminate in Central at the new artificially Edwardian pier by the other ferries to the outlying islands. The overhead walkway to the new terminal in Central still has not been completed. I suppose I will be able to become used to the odd design, based at least in frontal facade to the older pier of World War I vintage.
But what I think will hurt the ferry service is the fact that it is so far away from the old heart of Central. We could, to paraphrase the words of a recently departed American Secretary of Defense named Donald Rumsfeld, call Statue Square and the Landmark 'Old Central' and the IFC and the future buildings along the waterfront as 'New Central', but I think that misses the point of how easy it once was to get from even someplace on, say Ice House Street or Pacific Place to the ferry. Now it will be harder, and I suspect many of those current riders may ultimately say that the added hassle of walking 300 or 400 meters more will not be worth the hassle. The Central Star Ferry terminal will thus become more tourist attraction and less of a real conveyance for many people, fossilizing it and making it somehow less real to all of us.
What a shame. Farewell, Ferry by City Hall. Thanks for the memories!
Monday, November 13, 2006
Here's what I found. Mr. James Wu, the founder and chairman of Maxim's restaurants and caterers, had some usually sharp and acerbic comments about corruption in Hong Kong in 1973. Thank goodness things have gotten better since then:
Whilst corruption exists in all societies it has certainly gotten to be intolerably rampant in Hong Kong in recent years. Not only illegal businesses pay "protection money" but honest businessmen in their rightful claim for government service or permits are too often looked upon as being "square" and "inarticulate" [forgive me for not finding a suitable translation for the Cantonese "shuk shing"], it they fail to "grease the machine", thus to suffer from undue neglect and unfair competition. The cumbersome process of British law, and the face-conscious department chiefs who, circumstantial evidence notwithstanding, would jump to the defence instead of an investigation of his subordinates at the suggestion of corruption, are aggravating the situation.The majority of Hong Kong people also lived in tiny, tiny places. If we think that Hong Kong families suffer today, just listen to this comment from Mr. Hilton Cheong-Leen:
I hope that the honourable Secretary for Housing will be able to make a statement as to how soon a minimum of 50 square feet living space per person can be provided in public housing during the current 10-year programme.Mr. Cheong-Leen also addressed the causes of corruption, which he felt inextricably linked to the failure of legitimacy on the part of the colonial regime. It had just been the year before that the word from England had come down that Hong Kong was no longer to be referred to as a Colony, but just as a Dependent Territory:
Eliminating the casues of curroptuon is not only the setting up of an Independent Anti-Corruption Commission...It also involves the active co-operation and the right attitudes on the part of all citizens who share the vision of a more just society where there is no place for such causes of corruption.Up to this point, all of the senior servants in Hong Kong were still British. It would be another ten years before there was a significant increase in senior Chinese in the civil service, but Mr. Cheong-Leen's courage to speak up on the subject certainly planted the seed for self-governance of a Chinese Hong Kong by the Chinese themselves. As Mr. Cheong-Leen, who had been newly-appointed that year, was the first elected Chinese representative to Legco, he perhaps represented the vanguard of more broad-based changes in governance of the 'Territory'.
This demands firm moral leadership on the art of the leaders who govern Hong Kong.
I would suggest that the Administration's image as a government with firm moral leadership has to come through even more clearly than it has in the past.
The Government has to show through practical measures and through sincere and well-balanced declarations of intent that it really cares for the people.
To strengthen the morale in the top leadership in the Civil Service, more local officers should be given the opportunity to reach top posts and to demonstrate that they can serve the people with dedication and without anybureaucratic conceit.
Sir Lee Quo-Wei, a knight of the Empire and the longtime chairman of the Hang Seng Bank, spoke surprisingly on 'birth control', apparently a problem of the Age. Surprising, now that Hong Kong has the lowest birthrate in the World, all efforts of our Catholic Chief Exec notwithstanding:
...I strongly urge that Government will now find it expedient to formulate a long-advocated Government population policy to implement a family planning porgramme. It is essential that such a programme should...embrace all phases of activities concerned with population growth. I would like to propose that a Working Committee be formed to study the whole question of population and the most appropriate means of encouraging the reduction of future birth rates.It seems Hong Kong found a solution to the problem in the interim. I suspect it is simply, hard work.
I suppose I realize that I am now getting old, when so much has changed in Hong Kong since my birth. It is, after all, over the standard measure of a generation. Yet, rather than fearful of my mortality, this little investigation of the happenings of November 14th, 1973, only served to remind me that the passage of time is good - for us, and for our city, it has brought undeniably positive change.
Friday, November 10, 2006
Here though, I shall quote for you a few lines from perhaps the first travel guidebook to Hong Kong (as well as several other cities in China besides). The Victorian always felt quite comfortable classifying the various races and ethnic groups he came across. While today it might make the members of those groups feel rather akin to having been impaled with a needle and put into some sort of collector's box of human taxonomy, then it seemed a rather accepted thing to do. I suppose if we were to find an alien race living on the moon or on a nearby planet, we would unhestiatingly offer our most accurate stereotypes to those less knowledgeable, and would do for some time to come.
At any rate, without further ado:
In the first place, then, to dispose of the philological question as briefly as possible, we must premise that the syllables "Pun-ti" denote a native or original indweller of the soil, whilst "Hak-ka," on the contrary, signifies a stranger, or as we might phrase it, an immigrant from afar. These are terms which must be taken in just such a sense as that in which they would be understood in Ireland, were a Galway cottier, of the true Milesian type, to speak of the descendants of long-buried generations of Scottish settlers in the Northern counties, as "inthruders on the soil of Ould Ireland," while the amiable feelings our Galwegian would probably cherish with reference to his thriftier neighbours, would further form an exact parallel to the sentiments which impel the "Pun-ti" in Hongkong and on the mainland to make such frequent appeals to the bamboo-pole, the gingal, and the fighting irony. For if a Chinese Scotsman be imaginable, he exists surely in the laborious, saving, prolific and irrepressible Hak-ka, who has thriven and multiplied in his constant migrations toward the South, in such degree that he has now for many years been the object of bitter hatred on the part of the more supine "native" whom he supplants.Yes, indeed the British were bemused onlookers in the early days of the colony when battles between the Hakka and the Punti Cantonese took place in the 1850s and 1860s. There was a full scale ethnic war, in fact, on in Tsim Sha Tsui just after the British took possession in 1860. One reason for this was the fact that many of the leaders of the Taiping Rebellion were in fact Hakka, which only deepened the divisions between the races.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
In the Chinese quarter of the town, we entered a few opium-shops, but they were all empty, and we were told by the Chinamen to return in the evening about eight or nine, when they began to fill. Government farms out, for a fixed revenue per annum, the privilege of licensing a certain number of these opium-shops, which is a speculation to the man who takes it, and who is called the opium farmer.... At night, we returned to the opium-shops, and visited in succession ten or twelve. Each shop contains a bench about four feet broad, reaching from one end of the room to the other, on each side, leaving a passage between; these are covered with matting, for the smokers to recline upon, and have affixed to them, at equal distances between every two persons, a small lamp constantly burning, heat being required to be applied often to the pipe whilst smoking. Leading from this principal room are many smaller chambers, or recesses, concealed from view by a curtain. These contain nothing but a table and mats, upon which latter recline, out of sight, those smokers who are so far gone, that the eye would be shocked by the public exhibition of such depravity.If one can get past the imperial tone of empire, what Dr. Berncastle was advocating was actually a rather liberal view, quite ahead of his time - that there was no 'white man's burden' to shoulder here in the form of vice, efforts best concentrated on home.
We met principally with common, half-naked Chinamen, of all ages, and in all the different stages of narcotism, some merely becoming gently exhilarated from their first pipe. Certainly, to speak fairly, the gin-palaces of London, half filled with women and infants, besides the other inmates, spending their last farthing in as bad a poison as opium, is a much more immoral and disgusting spectacle, occurring amongst civilsed Christians of both sexes, in the boasted capital of the civilized world; whereas this opium-smoking, which is making such a stir and shuddering amongst us unthinking people, turns out to be almost entirely confined to Pagan Chinese coolies and mechanics, adults of one sex only indulging in it, and that principally at night, when their labour is over. Many of them are not much injured by it, when not taken to excess, as their looks, and the number of years they had been addicted to it, sufficiently proved. I am not going to sanction the custom at all, but seeing much worse practices at home, we should be cautious how we blame these half-barbarous people, without religion, or the advantages of education and civilization. Let us try to reform abuses here, before we interfere with them in the East
His visit then further takes an unexpected turn, even after having seen some bad addicts, perhaps out of scientific curiosity:
We had looked into all the secret cabinets and recesses, and at last found one occupied by its wretched tenant. He was an elderly man, and, on being roused, looked at us with an air quite "hebete." [Meaning 'dull', or 'stupid' - Ed.] He had finished his eighth pipe, and was an opium-smoker of ten years' standing. His idiotic aspect, and emaciated, shrivelled-up frame told plainly enough that he would soon finish his miserable career.
The opium-pipe is altogether rather more than a foot in length, and has in it a small hold, about the size of a pea, where the opium is inserted. The landlord weighs for five cents a small piece of the drug, which is mixed with bang and other compounds, and has the consistence of an extract. This he fixes on the end of a steel like a knitting needle, and hands it to the smoker, who pushes it with the steel into the small hole in the pipe, and then lights it at the lamp by his side.
The smoke when inhaled is retained the same as with the hookah. "Mine host" having prepared me a pipe, I took a few whiffs, and did not find it unpleasant, nor produce any effect on me, but a few more probably would have done so, and I did not wish to be in a state of narcotism during the short space of time I had to spend at Singapore. The Chinamen in attendance at all these places were very civil and obliging. They gave us tea, without milk or sugar, in little cups about the size of an egg-cup.
"Military and naval men, who have served in Africa and India, feel the effects of the sun at Hong Kong in a manner never before experienced. Neither the Indian sepoys, Malays, or Chinese, can endure the climate as well as Europeans, whose stamina they do not possess [this quote, from bitter ex-HK Treasurer Montgomery Martin, could not have been referring to the villagers that had lived in HK for generations - Ed.]... The Europeans who survive a brief residence in the climate, generally get a lassitude of frame and an irritability of fibre, which destroy the springs of existence."Harsh!
This is a gloomy picture of our boasted Chinese acquisition, and may serve to teach us the way of making a better choice when next the occasion offers. The only commerce of any consequence which is carried on in Hong Kong seems to be in that detestable drug opium. This makes the island the resort of pirates, smugglers, and disreputable characters of all descriptions, so that robberies and murders are of nightly occurence. In 1844, the number of Chinese on the island was nineteen thousand, of whom, not more than one thousand were women and children. In the census were included ninety-seven women, slaves, and females attendant on thirty-one brothels, eight gambling-houses, and twenty opium shops! In six years not one respectable Chinese has settled at Hong Kong...Hong Kong is nothing better than a grave for Europeans and a refuge for the smuggling desperadoes of the mainland.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
I have written in pages past about Lord Palmerston, the Foreign Minister of Great Britain in 1839 when the United Kingdom embarked on the Opium War against China. Although he disparaged Hong Kong as a 'barren rock', he was the chief government architect of a policy that gave life to Hong Kong.
I have read recently some snippets of exchanges between Lord Palmerston and a young rising star in Parliament at that time, William Gladstone. Gladstone, who famously insisted as a Liberal that Britain should only uphold policies that are morally correct, was a furious opponent of the Opium War. But Gladstone also held views that were very radical at the time, including universal suffrage.
As I read Lord Palmerston's exchanges with Gladstone, I could not help but think of the similarities between Palmerston's positions then and those of Hong Kong's conservatives now. Here is just a flavour:
Lord Palmerston to Gladstone after the latter's speech in the House of Commons in favour of parliamentary reform (12th May, 1864):In every way, similarities with DAB and the reactionaries that make up most of Hong Kong's representatives to China. The people are too stupid to know what is best for them, best we keep the voting population to a small, predictable elite.
I read your speech and I must frankly say, with much regret, there is little in it that I can agree with. You lay down broadly the doctrine of universal suffrage which I can never accept. I deny that every same and not disqualified man has a moral right to vote. What every man and woman too have a right to, is to be well governed and under just laws, and they who propose a change ought to show that the present organisation does not accomplish those objects...
Hong Kong was set up in the Victorian age when such sentiments were common. Sadly, while many improvements have been made in governance in Hong Kong, political reform has not been an arena that has actually seen tremendous improvement. More from Lord P:
Lord Palmerston, letter to William Gladstone (11th May 1864)Sound familiar? That's because Hong Kong's conservative parties believe this too. Introduce democracy, and suddenly Hong Kong will become a welfare state.
No doubt many working men are as fit to vote as many of the ten pounders, but if we open the door to the working class the number who may come in may be excessive, and may swamp the classes above them. The result would arise not merely from the number let in, but also from the fact that the influx discourages the classes above them from voting at all; and then these working men are unfortunately under the control of trade unions, which are directed by a small number of directing agitators.
Interestingly, Lord Palmerston also got his start in rotten boroughs that allowed his election by a very small set of interests - one, a Lord that owned a 'pocket borough' on the Isle of Wight. How different really from our functional constituencies?
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
Nevertheless, the society did do a lot of good work and prevented the kidnapping or immoral use of thousands of girls. The problem that some members of the colonial establishment had with it was that it had detectives that were authorized, independently of policemen, to search ships and enter boarding houses near the shore to interview women and girls that were being shipped off to far ports of call. It took some work though, to ascertain whether women were going off to work as prostitutes of their own will, or whether they were being forced. All of this made the port of Hong Kong a rather confusing place, and women interviewed would sometimes answer their querents in a way that reflected this confusion. Allow me to provide an example:
Case No. 2.Here is another, with an interesting twist:
A girl named Ng Yuk, who appeared at the Emigration Office, and stated she was going to Singapore to be a prostitute, was detained, as on being questioned she was unable to give satisfactory answers, and sent by order of the Registrat General to the Po Leung Kuk, with a request that the Committee would inquire into her case. The Committee did so and ascertained that the woman was not going to be a prostitute, that she had said she was, because she thought she would be passed more easily by the Emigration Officer, that she was a married woman, that her husband wished to take her to Singapore, and that the statements made by husband and wife agreed. A copy of the girl's statement was taken down and forwarded to the Registrar General, who handed the woman over to her husband.
Case No. 6.
In the year 1890, 17th November, a girl named Ho Kam Yuk, aged 15, was found on board a steamer going to Sandakan, and brought before the Acting Registrar General to whom she stated that she did not wish to go to Sandakan. The girl was handed over under security to a woman Leung Yau and had to come to the Registrar General's Office every quarter. A few days ago a man came to this office and said he wished to marry Ho Kam Yuk and take her to Singapore. The man was not known to this office, so the Po Leung Kuk was requested to make inquiries, which was done, and a report received saying that there was no doubt regarding the bona fides of the man in question. The Registrar General accordingly approved of the marriage and the bond usual in such cases was duly signed, sealed and delivered.
Saturday, October 28, 2006
Behold that vile English nation! Its ruler is at one time a woman, then a man, and then perhaps a woman again; its people are at one time like vultures, and then they are like wild beasts, with dispositions more fierce and furious than the tiger or wolf, and natures more greedy than anacondas or swine. These people having long steadily devoured all the western barbarians, and like demons of the night, they now suddenly exalt themselves here.Ah well, I guess things don't always go as planned.
During the reigns of the emperors Kien-lung and Kia-king these English barbarians humbly besought an entrance and permission to deliver tribute and presents; they afterwards presumptuously asked to have Chu-san; but our sovereigns, clearly perceiving their traitorous designs, gave them a determined refusal. From that time, linking themselves with traitorous Chinese traders, they have carried on a large trade and poisoned our brave people with opium.
Verily, the English barbarians murder all of us that they can. They are dogs, whose desires can never be satisfied. Therefore we need not inquire whether the peace they have now made be real or pretended. Let us all rise, arm, unite, and go against them.
We do here bind ourselves to vengeance, and express these our sincere intentions in order to exhibit our high principles and patriotism. The gods from on high now look down upon us; let us not lose our just and firm resolution.
I discovered the answer in some recent questions posed by that redoubtable Portuguese member of Legco, Mr. J.P. Braga, in response to the government suddenly cutting the trees down:
Hon. Mr. J.P. Braga asked:--There you have an early example of the traffic department and of the Hong Kong government in general giving rather callous treatment to aesthetics, nature and pedestrian (and shade for those waiting for the bus) considerations. Thus it has always been, and the hundreds of old trees hacked down for recent projects in Aberdeen and TST have been simply the modern manifestations of very old attitudes. One assumes with the handover that the government has changed; but rather, to the contrary, change is the exception and old habits die hard.
1.--Will the Honourable the Colonial Secretary[Sir Thomas Southorn, of Southern Garden in Wanchai fame - Ed.] state the reasons for the recent felling of the trees in Nathan Road at Kowloon, and on whose instructions were those useful and ornamental trees destroyed?
2.--Is it not true that shortly before the trees were felled quite a number of those with damaged or decaying trunks were treated at some expenditure of public money in a manner to arrest destruction through natural causes? And if true, what is the explanation for the sudden change of policy leading to the destruction of perfectly sound trees by means of human agency?
3.--Is it the intention of Government to cut down any more, and if so, how many, of the trees that once formed such a picturesque avenue in Nathan Road?
4.--Was any reference made to the Kowloon Residents' Association, or to the Hong Kogn Automobile Association before the decision was taken and put into effect for the removal of the trees in question?
5.--Will the Government consider the advisability of restoring, partially if not totally, the avenue that excited so much admiration, by commencing a programme of sapling planting in places where planting will not constitute a danger to wheeled traffic?
6.--In future, in any matter affecting the amenities of the Peninsula, will the Government be good enough to ascertain, in the first place, the views of responsible bodies or organisations in Kowloon before carrying out decisions concerning which Kowloon residents may advantageously be consulted?
The Colonial Secretary replied:--
1.--Instructions were issued by Government that certain trees should be felled, on the recommendations of the Inspector General of Police after consultation with the Superintendent, Botanical and Forestry Department, on the ground that they form an obstruction to traffic.
2.--The treatment of damaged roadside trees is a routime matter usually attended to in February before the spring rains begin. When the trees in Nathan Road were teated the recommendations of the Inspector General of Police had not been received.
3.--It is the intention of Government as at present advised to remove certain other trees, in partcular thosein the neighbourhood of bus stops and those at the corners of side streeets.
4.--The answer is in the negative.
5.--Only such trees as are considered to constitute a definite obstruction to traffic are being removed. It is not therefore considered advisable to replace them.
6.--The Government are at all times prepared to give full consideration to views expressed by representative bodies, but cannot see their way to give the specific undertaking asked for.
The twenty yard stretch between the Old Kowloon British School and the McDonalds near St. Andrew's Church give the modern visitor a faint idea of what Nathan Road might have once appeared in its green, leafy glory...
Friday, October 27, 2006
I should like to suggest for the consideration of the Government whether it is advisable to have any trams at all in Kowloon. I candidly admit that until recently my view has been that we required for the adequate development of the Kowloon hinterland to avail ourselves of every possible means of communication. I am now, however, inclined to doubt whether that view is correct, seeing that in London and other large cities the motor bus has been driving out the Tram.So there you have it. The speaker Mr. Pollock's reasoning was agreed to by the other members of Legco, and the tram idea was nixed, particularly in a time of reduced budgets. The tram had taken off on Hong Kong side when it was actually a fast mode of conveyance, before buses or cars existed in Hong Kong, in the 1890s. It is a surprising fact that the tram, or 'ding-ding' as it is affectionately known here still exists (except for the cheap HK$2 fare, of course). But in unsentimental Hong Kong, every anachronism should be heartily embraced with both arms flung wide.
Furthermore, the bus has three advantages over the Tram, namely, firstly, it is mobile and not tied to any fixed track; and secondly, it is faster than the tram; and thirdly, it is less noisy.
Another disadvantage in employing trams is that they tend to impede the working of motor bus and car traffic.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
On the 4th of April a Japanese named Araki Tuzo, age 32 years, unemployed and of no fixed abode was attacked in a Japanese boarding house at 55 Connaught Road Central by a number of Japanese men who stabbed him on the head and body with knives and swords causing such injuries that he died before removal to Hospital. Tuzo the deceased man was the head of a party who imported Japanese women for immoral purposes and some differences arose between some of the party when it was suspected that Tuzo was not acting honestly towards his own party. They decided to remove him and appoint some one else as their head. Some of the party set off in search of Tuzo who apparently took shelter in the boarding house where they found him and murdered him. Four men were arrested and indicted for murder; they were found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to ten years hard labour each. A number of others connected with the party were arrested and banished from the Colony.55 Connaught Road, the Japanese boarding house of 1907, by the way, is today Crocodile House, that firm that got rich by creating a crocodile that faced a different way from the Lacoste alligator, and made the same product- polo shirts. How that's not trademark infringement I'll never know...
But anywhere, here is an even stranger one:
On the 7th of August while the S.S. Monteagle was lying in the Kowloon Docks the body of a European woman, age about 30 years, was found by the Carpenter in a trunk which had been placed in the baggage room on the 4th of August. The trunk containing the body was handed over to the Police and the body removed to the Mortuary: the appearance of the body showed that death was caused by strangulation, a lady's dress band was tightly fastened around the neck and secured with a brush which had been used as a tourniquet. Later inquiries revealed the fact that two persons who took a room in the Hongkong Hotel [HK's most famous hotel then, now the site of the Landmark, and it's namesake now by the TST Star Ferry - Ed.] on the 3rd of August in the names of a Mr. and Mrs. Jones were missing from their room, this information led to the identification of the body and later the arrest of the murderer. The body was identified as that of a female named Gertrude Dayton, one of the unfortunate class [meaning prostitute - Ed.], and the man as one W. H. Adsetts who accompanied the woman from Manila, arriving in the Colony by the S.S. Eastern on the 3rd of August. The murder was committed sometime in the early morning of the 4th after which the bofy was put in the trunk and later in the day conveyed on board the steamer then lying at anchor in the Harbour. After disposing of the body Adsetts fled from the Colony. He was arrested in Chefoo by the United States Authorities and conveyed to Manila whence he was extradited. Adsetts was brought back to the Colony on the 23rd September, was tried and convicted of murder and hanged.Thrilling stuff, seems something like CSI meets Hercule Poirot! Chefoo, incidentally, was the old colonial name for Yantai, a city and former treaty port in Shandong province in Northern China.
One more for today:
On the 17th of November the body of a man named Cheung Fuk, age 50 years, a stonecutter residing at 59 High Street [at the corner of High and Centre Streets, just below Bonham Road - Ed.] was removed to the Public Mortuary for Post Mortem examination. Examination showed that deceased died from the effects of a poison. Deceased's concubine Lam Kui alias Mo Ho [gotta love this alias! - Ed.] was arrested and charged with administering a poison. She was convicted at the Criminal Sessions and sentenced to be hanged, since commuted to penal servitude.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
I was reading a police and crime report from 1906, and ventured to see what had happened in Hong Kong. I found the following entry:
On the 27th July, Chung Yiu, aged 38, was killed by a fall down a flight of steps between Caine Road and Arbuthnot Road. The man was calling out his wares in a prohibited district and ran down the steps to avoid being arrested by Indian Police Constable Ahmed Deen, who was charged and committed for trial at the Criminal Sessions, but no indictment was filed.Tragic of course, but almost understandable how someone could die falling down the narrow steps in the lanes between Arbuthnot and Caine. Hawking was not illegal in most parts of Hongkong then, but the area around the magistracy, of course, was very sensitive and apparently was one of the prohibited areas at that time. The story, however, could have been entirely different from the one we are told in the official report, particularly given the predilection for bribes from all sections of the police force at that time. One can only hope that the death was an honest mistake!
This being the 17th of October, I thought I should have something specifically from this date:
On the 17th October, the steam-launch Evening Star collided with and capsized a rowing boat No. 3502 while sailing in the Harbour between the French Mail buoy and Blake Pier with the result that two persons lost their lives. The master of the launch was arrested, and discharged by the Police Magistrate.What is notable is that the Evening Star was no ordinary boat - this steam launch was in fact the Star Ferry service, which at that point had been around for almost three decades. At that time it had already been sold by its Parsee founder, Dorabjee Nowrojee, to the Kowloon Wharf and Godown Company, which still owns the firm to this day.
I had heard before somewhere that the Star Ferry had not ever had an accident. It does indeed have an excellent safety record, but the next time someone says that in your hearing, you can set them straight...
One final note. I was digging around earlier trying to find out the origins of the name of Arbuthnot Road. I found one genealogy website for the Arbuthnot family claiming that it had been named after one John "Jack" Bernard Arbuthnot, a military man in the Household Cavalry and the Scots Guards, and whom had served in the Boer War. In his duties he'd had to look after a little girl that was part of the Royal Household, who turned out to be the late Queen Mother! He'd apparently also been an aide-de-camp to "Governor-General Henry Arthur Blake", who was indeed a Governor in Hong Kong (Blake Pier, in the second blotter story, was named after him), which is how the street got its name.
But on closer inspection, the story sounded suspicious. Hong Kong had never had "Governors General" like Canada, nor was I aware that aides to the civilian Governor would have the military title of ADC. Looking further through old archives, I found a tender for sewage construction for "Arbuthnot Road and Morrison Road" in Hong Kong in 1875 - the same year Jack was born. So that story is disproven, but I'm back to square one. Can anyone else help out?
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Enjoy! If the link doesn't work at first, try again - it can get stuck sometimes.
Sunday, October 01, 2006
With this title I speak not of any recent date, but of the first ordinary meeting of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong after the end of the war against Japan. One of the most brave and honorable gentlemen to have lived through World War II under Japanese Occupation in Hong Kong was Sir Man-Kam Lo, who was immediately appointed back to the Legislative Council after the War, unlike some of the other pre-war members that had been adjudged to have collaborated too enthusiastically with the occupiers.
He made a stirring speech that day, May 16th, 1946, welcoming back Governor Sir Mark Young, who had been a prisoner of War held by the Japanese throughout the conflict. I shall simply relate this speech to you, and its elegance and simplicity, in its entireity:
Your Excellency, on the afternoon of Monday the 8th December, 1941, you presided over a meeting of the Executive and Legislative Councils. As one of the two members - the other being my Honourable friend Mr Leo d'Almada e Catro-present both at that meeting and at this, the first ordinary meeting of this Council to-day, I should like, if I may, on behalf of all the unofficial members, to tender a warm welcome to you, Sir, as President of this Council.It was notable that Mr. M.K. Lo, notable for having refused to actively cooperate with the Japanese, was one of two holdovers from the pre-war Legco to speak - and that it was a Chinese that had become the senior 'unofficial' member. He spoke movingly of the shared horror of the Occupation, but also of a need to change things around in the new Colony, and had encouraged the Governor to move forward with his plan for greater autonomy and democracy for the Chinese residents of Hong Kong. Sadly, when Sir Mark was replaced, almost all of his political reform agenda was shelved by a British colonial service fearful both of the spectre of Chinese Communism and the political instability of the burgeoning refugee population in the city. Nevertheless, for a city that does not often look back to notable speeches made by its first citizens of yesteryear, this one address by Man Kam Lo is, I think, worthy of recall.
At that meeting you, Sir, formally announced to both Councils "that a state of war now exists between the British Empire and Japan." And so the war came to this tiny Colony. Eventually you, Sir, became a prisoner of war of an enemy whose treatment of prisoners of war and of the inhabitants of the territories he occupied, constitutes an everlasting dark blot in the annals of history. The suffering, which you, Sir, had to endure affords some indication to you of the agony and nightmare which the people of this Colony, internees and residents, had to undergo during the Japanese occupation. Thanks to the undefeatable spirit of Britain and the heroism of all the great Allies, the Japanese Empire, together with Germany and Italy, were finally and utterly crushed, and the menacing spectre of militarism removed from the earth. But, alas! not until August, 1945, and not without irreparable loss and suffering. We in the Colony mourn those who gave their all for the Cause, including so many sons of Hongkong.
Much has been done towards the rehabilitation of the Colony. But, Sir, Hongkong is still licking its wounds. The hostilities and the occupation will leave many permanent scars in the shape of injuries, mental as well as physical, and it must take time to repair all the material damage and ravages of the past four years.
Moreover, it is a truism that the problems of peace are no less difficult than those of war. And the Colony is faced with many of its own problems of peace- social, political and economic.
All the unofficial members are convinced that with your personal knowledge of the Colony's suffering, and under your wise guidance and direction, all such problems will be solved in the best interests of the Colony, so that those who gave up their lives in its defence will not have died in vain, and that those that remain may look forward to the future with confidence.
Your return, Sir, we hope and believe, marks a new epoch in the history of the Colony. In a sense, it signifies the resumption of the Civil Administration, including the sittings of this Council, interrupted in December, 1941. But it means more than this. It marks a point in time at which, pausing to survey the last century of progress, aided by the experience, but untrammelled by the mistakes, of the past, the Colony resolutely turns to post-war reconstruction and social betterment. It signifies the burth of a new Hongkong, which, in surviving the grim ordeal of the war years, has learned to appreciate the inestimable boon of law and order, the sense of responsibility in a greater measure of self-government foreshadowed by Your Excellency, and the need to strive and attain an ever higher standard of life and living through unity of purpose and effort.
Imbued with this spirit, thankfully rejoicing in deliverance from an intolerable yoke, resolved to advance the interests of the Colony as a whole and not those of any particular section or community, we cordially welcome Your Excellency's resumption of the Presidency of this Council and assure you, Sir, of our wholehearted co-operation and support
Monday, September 11, 2006
He had this to same about Communist philosophy and the Chinese ethos:
...above all else, the Colony of Hong Kong desires to see in Kuang-tung and Kuang-hsi a strong, stable and enlightened Government. Of such a Government we should gladly be close friends and staunch supporters.Well, it was certainly true of the Chinese in Hong Kong at that time, but was perhaps not so accurate of the country as a whole. But it also goes to show that if you wait long enough, anything one predicts will come true (hence the everpresent popularity of Nostradamus). Too bad China had to learn such a bitter lesson for the truth of it to sink in!
Another matter which is near our hearts is to see the curse of Bolshevism removed from China. The ideas permeating Bolshevism are wholly alien to the Chinese mind: and a moment's thought should suffice to convince the Cantonese authorities that in the development of the Liang Kuang provinces by the peaceful and orderly processes of trade and commerce Great Britain and the British Colony of Hong Kong can give more effective and lasting assistance than the Russian Soviet. We uphold ideals which are dear to the Chinese mind, - peace, good government, commercial enterprise, learning and literature, loyalty to the honoured traditions of the past and an orderly advance towards all that the future promises. But the Bolshevik record is at present a bloodstained page of revolution, terrorism, anarchy and intestine war. The civilized mind recoils with horror from its contemplation; and throughout China, I am thankful to say, there is now a growing abomination of all that Bolshevism means. It is our earnest hope that the Chinese people may pluck out this evil by the roots and cast it from their country.
Thursday, September 07, 2006
...there is now vacant and unappropriated at Causeway Bay a limited area of level ground, open to the sea and easily accessible by road, now temporarily used, under permission from the Government, for purposes of recreation; that this piece of ground although open for sale for building purposes for a number of years has remained unsold, the Chinese being apparently still unwilling to move out into that quarter of the city; that even should this neighbourhood ultimately become, contrary to present appearances, a densely populated neighbourhood inhabited mainly by Chinese, it will be highly desirable that some sufficient area should be maintained in the midst thereof for purposes of light, of ventilation, of recreation, and as a lung, or breathing space for the locality. The ground now referred to, situate nearly between Jardine's Bazaar and North Point, is admirably suited to serve for such a purpose...So Mr. Whitehead didn't really see how Causeway Bay could become crowded or full of Chinese people. Well, shows how much can change in a hundred-odd years!
But he brings up the point that people cared a great deal about the environment and air pollution even in those days. He cited the creation of the park as not only "materially add[ing] to to the value of the neighbourhood, but it will permanently promote the physical health and happiness of large numbers of the residents."
In fact, Mr. Whitehead had cited the following as other reasons for building a park, ones that are just as relevant today:
...the population of the colony of Hongkong is steadily increasing...within the limits of the city of Victoria all available land is being closely built over; houses are rising in height to three, four and five stories [multiply by 20 for today's equivalent.-Ed.]; the consumption of coal instead of wood is largely increasing as are also manufacturing industries of various kinds, with the result that within the city, even on the uppoer roads, it is difficult to get the pure air, exercise, and recreation that is essential for the preservation of health in this climate.He then proposed that in the 60th year of the reign of Her Majesty Queen Victoria, that the 'Queen's Recreation Ground' be built, unde Ordinance, for the benefit of the public of Hong Kong. Also, if the 'harbour of refuge' [typhoon shelter] were ever to be reclaimed, that it be added to the proposed Queen's Recreation Road.
It took awhile, it was much smaller than expected, and the appended typhoon shelter was not added until after the War, but eventually Victoria Park was established, with the Statue of the Queen that once stood in Statue Square coming, by way of Japan (where it was almost melted down for scrap during the War) gracing its southern edge.
Monday, August 28, 2006
had evaporated. The flag that Hong Kong had long known, with a notable half-decade interregnum in the 1870s, was one that had the blue ensign and the flag of the United Kingdom in its top left corner. On its right side was a circle that showed a scene, apparently from Kowloon, of a man buying chests of tea (or was it opium in the early days?) from a merchant, and with ships in the harbour.
Now this image irked successive Governors and senior civil servants, keenly aware that the flag showed that it was the merchant, and not the authority of the Queen, that made the flag distinctive. It was also cartoonlike, and they felt ill-befitting men of their office to rally behind such a symbol.
Where did I find this out? From a fascinating debate that took place in the Legislative Council in 1912, on the 15th of April. The Colonial Secretary of the time, and an urbane, mild-mannered Sinologist / government cadet named Sir Cecil Clementi, made an astonishing outburst about the poor quality of the flag. This is what he had to say, in response to a previous veto by unofficial members of Legco of his efforts to change the flag:
As a fact a young lady now resident in Hongkong did design a new badge. It consisted of a naval anchor and a Chinese grapnel crossed underneath the Imperial British Crown. The design was simple and artistic. Sir F. Lugard approved it...Honourable members, however, decided by a majority of 8 to 5 that the existing badge of the Colony should be retained and that it was undesirable to change it. I confess that this decision was a great surprise to me, and before accepting it as final I would like to give hon. members a short account of the origin of the existing badge as recorded in the archives of my department. It would appear that in the spring of 1869, the Crown Agents for the Colonies approached an oilman at Wapping with the request that he would design a badge for the Colonial flag of Hongkong. An economical bargain was driven and for a fee of some 3 pounds the existing badge of the Colony was painted. It was then set in a blue ensign and sent out to Hongkong as the flag of the Colony. Local opinion was not consulted, and it seems that the artistic feelings of the community recieved a rude shock when the new flag was first unfurled. The then Governor, Sir Richard Graves Macdonnell, brought the matter before his Executive Council, which had no hesitation in recording the opinion that the flag was "both design and execution extremely defective."Let us stop for a moment, given that latin is a language dying now even in our schools. Caelum non animum mutant means literally, 'they change their sky but not their heart'. But it is a reference to an oft-quoted section of Horace, which is "Coelum non animum mutant, qui trans mare currunt". In its entireity, it means, 'those who cross the sea change their sky but not their heart', and may have been a very meaningful aphorism for the British in Hong Kong in the 1860s, so very far from home. Anyway, let us continue with the rant of Sir Cecil (later Governor) Clementi:
Accordingly Sir Richard on the 3rd July, 1869, addressed a protest to Lord Granville, at that time Secretary of State for the Colonies. He wrote: "As the design seems to have been compiled by an oilman at Wapping for about 3 pounds, a specimen of the highest art could not well have been looked for. Apart, however, from the abstract merits of the flag, it is the wish of the Council and of every one who has expressed an opinion on the subject, that your Lordship should direct some fresh and more suitable design to be substituted. It has been suggested that in lieu of the gentleman in an evening coat who is purchasing tea on the beach at Kowloon, an unusual place for such transactions [sarcasm is the author's, italics are mine - Ed.], it would be more agreeable to the feelings of the community if the foreground were occupied by the well-known figure of Britannia with the British Lion lying beside her and near the British flag. it is suggested that in such case the shield might bear either the motto Coelum non animum mutant or the Royal Arms, as your Lordship may decide.
I admit that in the design of the enclosed flag there is a certain unpleasant resemblance to a portion of the present arms of the Colony, but I respectfully submit that the opportunity is not unfabourable for considering whether the Arms themselves now borne on the seal of the Colony are not capable of improvement. That, however, which is appropriate on the smaller surface of the seal seems quite unsuitable to the larger field of the flag." Again on the 27th December, 1869, Sir Richard wrote to Lord Granville:-"The flag at present assigned to the Colony is capable of great and easy improvement, and in fact that it is wholly unsuitable, as the device, though not strikingly out of good taste when put on a medal or a seal, becomes obviously so when occupying the larger field of a flag. Such at least is the opinion of myself and my Council as well as of every one else whom I have hitherto heard speaking on the subject. I have even referred the matter again to my Council, and they unanimously recommend a change of the device in the flag to something of the same idea and character as that which I ventured to submit to your Lordship in my despatch No. 734 of July last." He added, "I may say that, however pleased we might be to obtain a flag with a more tasteful device, our principal object is to get rid of that which at present appears to be decidedly obnoxious." "On the 5th May, 1870, Lord Granville replied:- "I have the honour to inform you that not being satisfied with the designs for a Colonial Flag for Hong Kong which have been submitted to me, I have decided that the best course will be to adopt for use in the Colony a pattern somewhat similar to that which has been selected by the Governor of New Zealand, viz.: a blue ensign with a white crown over the initial letters of the Colony. The Crown Agents have been informed of my decision, and in accordance with it will forward a supply of flags of that pattern for the service of the Government of Hongkong." Then for some reason which cannot be traced in my archived the whole matter appears suddenly to have fallen into abeyance. The new flags were never sent out and the exiting flag remained as an enduring witness to the artistic standards of Wapping.But unfortunately for Sir Cecil, the British respect for tradition, which makes it the only advanced polity in the world without a written Constitution, got in the way:
Hon. Mr. C.H. Ross- I opposed this resolution on the last occasion when it came up, and did so, not because I admire the present badge, but because I have a great respect for antiquity. The Hon. Colonial Secretary just now has said that if we continue our present flag, we will be upholding that which the Legislative Council of 1869 disapproved. That is some forty-three years ago, a considerable space of time. I do not think the present badge is artistic, but still it has the dignity of age, and with a small improvement, as I suggested on the last occasion, such as an artistic pagoda or a junk, with the Peak in the background, would meet the case. Two anchors crossed are certainly pretty, but I do not see what connection they have with Hongkong. [He must be deliberately obtuse - Ed.]The acting Governor Claud Severn agreed with Clementi but because there was no agreement on a new design they had to stick to the old one. At that point, Sir Cecil threw in the towel and withdrew his resolution.
Hon. Mr. Hewett-With regard to what my hon. friend, the last speaker has said, I entirely endorse his proposal. When the question came up in the Council, I played a lone hand, as it were, in opposing any change. I admit that when the flag was invented it might have been more artistic, but it was descriptive of Hongkong as it was shortly after the flag was housted here. I do not think any unhallowed hand should be allowed to tear down any monument of those historic days...The Hon. the Colonial Secretary has laid great stress on the fact that in ancient days, in 1869, certain officials and unofficials appeared to agree that the flag was inartistic, but he has produced nothing later to show that the flag is inartistic. What we know is that the whole world has advanced very much in artistic training, and whereas in 1869 the whole of the Council might have been opposed to the artistic merits of the flag, we have been so far educated that we find the great proportion of the present Council in favour of the flag as it stands.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
It had been created in the 1870s, and marketed first as a medicine in the 1880s - shockingly, to fulfill two purposes: 1) as a non-addictive drug substitute for morphine addicts (bad idea) and in cough syrup format for children (even worse), who seemed to not cough so much after ingesting it. The company that created it was the German firm Bayer, famous also for creating aspirin. In fact, the chemist that created aspirin, Felix Hoffmann, apparently synthesized heroin 11 days later. It was named heroin because of the 'heroic' feeling created by the drug in its users.
Now, to the report. That year, the Hong Kong authorities had confiscated 23,400 ounces, the first time it had reached these shores in any major quantity (given the volume and variety of substitutes). Given that one only needs 1/16th of an ounce for a nice hit, that was about 374,400 doses. Here is what J.D. Lloyd, the Superintendent of Imports and Exports, had to say:
Heroin made its appearance for the first time, and has apparently rapidly become popular amongst Chinese.[he refers here to the Chinese on the mainland -Ed.] Germany has rapidly regained her supremacy in the manufacture of Opium derivatives, the actual distribution of which appears to be still largely in the hands of Japanese or Formosan Japanese subjects. So far as could be ascertained all the drugs seized were inteded for use outside the Colony. In the Colony there would appear to be at present little misuse of such drugs. Canton has been taking drugs in small quantities and there is some indication that the trade there in drugs is reviving notwithstanding the facilities for the purchase of opium. [Opium divans of various classes were still legal at that time. - Ed.] Most of the morphia seized was intded for Amoy, most of the Heroin for Japan. It is reported that the demand for Heroin in Canton came from one source, chiefly, the manufacturer of a popular patent medicine.There you have it. There is another interesting bit in the report about arms seizures:
The number of arms seized during the year was 1,685 including 11 machine guns; 148,343 rounds of ammunition were seized, and 32 convictions were obtained. The United States supplied the greater number, even Mauser Pistols of German manufacture being imported in large quantities from this source. The makes were Smith-Wesson, Harrington & Richardson, Colt, Mauser, Luger and Steyr. Most of the ammunition was manufactured in the United States by the well known large ammunition factories.[as you can imagine, a lot of these arms were going to competing warlords in China- Ed.] A certain number of Mauser pistols bore the marks of an arms dealer in Paris, France appears to have developed a trade in second hand Mauser Pistols of German manufacture; ammunition to fit Mausers is specially manufacturered in France. There were no seizures of Browning Austomatics which used to be popular among the pirate and robber class of South China. [!-Ed.] In three cases the seizure of weapons probably prevented a piracy, as the weapons were cleaned and ready for use, each with about 50 rounds. The crews of the steamers were undoubtedly implicated, but it was impossible to bring ti home to any single person.If Hong Kong at this point in history was no longer the wild East, China and all points north certainly were! And Japan, well, the Japanese were certainly enjoying themselves weren't they?
5 cases of 108 sticks of dynamite, one box and 2,099 detonators, and 21 coils of fuse were seized. In one case the dynamite in large quantity was found in the crew's quarters, where smoking of cigarettes and opium was going on. In this case detonators were found in the Chinese cook house close to the open fire.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Funnily enough, the Zoroastrian Building's ground floor houses a Bentley dealership, whose logo, minus the B of course, would be a dead ringer for the wings on the sun logo that has survived thousands of years from the time of Persepolis, Darius and Xerxes of Persia. If it wasn't going to be Bentley perhaps (Ahura) Mazda might be more apropos?
But enough jokes. The Parsees, despite their very small numbers, made great at lasting contributions to Hong Kong. They were very much involved in the hotel business and in shipping, and the Star Ferry remains a daily reminder. In academics, of course, there is the legacy of Sir Hormusjee Naorojee Mody, who was instrumental in the creation of Hong Kong's first general institution for tertiary education (the Hong Kong College of Medicine predated HKU, but was absorbed into HKU after the latter's founding). Without his funds, Governor Lugard's pet project would never have gotten off the ground, because there would have been no building to house the university. He was able to see the groundbreaking ceremony, but unfortunately passed away before the building could be completed.
The question now is, where did Mr. Mody get his money? A short answer would be that he was in business with the very enterprising Mr. Paul Chater, who I've written about several times in these pages (do a search on this site to find these references). But Mr. Mody clearly had his own sense of investment timing, for Mr. Chater prized him, this reclusive, very private Parsee, about all others as investment partner. For it was with Mody that Chater bought up the TST docks after the typhoon, and convinced Jardines to co-invest into their new 'Wharf' venture. Unlike Chater, Mody never sought the spotlight or a central role in the running of things - he was content to make his fortunes quietly, and to pursue happy domestic life at home in the Mid-Levels and go racing, owning his horses under the alias 'Mr. Buxey'. His home, not surprisingly, was known as Buxey Lodge at 37 Conduit Road. (His second wife, who unlike the first, was not Parsee, in 1946 donated the house to the Hong Kong government, who rather unsentimentally for such a grand old mansion, tore it down and put government civil servants' flats in its place after having the lands department buy it outright for HK$300,000 from the Navy.)
Because of the fact that Mody was such a private man, and stayed mostly out of the public eye, very little record of him survives. But he will be forever known as the father of tertiary education here in Hong Kong, and is a key reminder to Hong Kong's overwhlemingly Chinese population not to totally forget the contributions to the city of its multicultural society.
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Conflagrations have been a risk for cities since time immemorial. Death, injury and loss of property have been almost inevitabilities as people have chosen to live in close quarters to each other, particularly in poorer districts. Hong Kong has been no exception, particularly in older Chinese district of Taipingshan, which stood frequent witness to ruinous conflagrations.
But the ruin of those fires was sometimes perhaps too convenient. And it was at that time that Chinese merchants first happened upon the Western business practice of commercial inventory insurance. In the 1880s, for instance, the telegraph and steamships had vastly improved communications between cities of the Empire, but prices of commodities were still subject to dramatic fluctuations. The goods of consumed by fire, suspiciously, tended to be insured when prices were near the top, presenting a major temptation to any warehouse owner whose fortunes had had to be marked down due to a falling market.
I quote the following for the report of H. E. Wodehouse, the Superintendent of the Fire Brigade of 1888:
The year has been characterized by an unusual number of fires, some of which have attained serious proportions, but the greater part of which have been soon extinguished. There were nearly three times as many fires as the maximum number recorded in any previous year and the resources of the Brigade have been very fully taxed. To those who know how easy the spread of a fire is in the crowded Chinese town with its back to back houses, and narrow lanes, I think the Brigades may be congratulated on the success that has attended their efforts.In Victorian English, this was tantamount to saying, 'of course there's bloody arson, it's happening more and more often, and unless we take steps to make suring insurance fraud isn't so easy it's going to happen more and more often.'
In one of these fires only has a charge of incendiarism been made. It was made at the instance of an Agent for a German Insurance Office, and was committed for trial at the Supreme Court, where the defendant was acquitted without being called upon to make his defence.
I understand that a civil suit is pending in connection with this trial and I forbear therefore from dwelling upon this particular case. Generally speaking, however, I may say that the practice of insuring contents of Chinese houses without any check beyond what is caused by the self-interests of the parties concerned is a grave source of temptation, and is fostered by the interests both of those who insure and of those who accept the risks.
Even supposing abuses not to arise it is inexpedient to give opportunity for them and the danger created by the facilities for bad practices is aggravated by the difficulty of detecting and exposing such as take place, and by the natural reluctance which a Company concerned only with its own interests feels to take the initiative by refusing a claim.
It is possible however that when systematic enquiries on oath are made, other causes such as the indiscriminate and careless use of Kerosine oil, or the increase of accidents arising with the growth of the population may be found to be the prime promoters of coflagrations, but the tendency of insuring is undoubtedly to give rise to incendiarism, and even apparent carelessness may be the result of careful forethought.
Two or three cases of undoubted incendiarism have come under my own notice, occurring not necessarily in the house in which the fire originated, but in the house adjoining it, and I am credibly informed that on the occasion of the large fire in Queen's Road West some weeks ago, the fire broke out simultaneously in three different houses separated from each other and with no possibility of intercommunication of the flames.
Friday, August 18, 2006
I've been doing a lot of research into drugs recently for one of our projects (sure, you're all collectively saying). Academic research, I assure you. In any case, I found a rather amusing document from the Hong Kong archives, from 1908. It was written by (later Sir) Cecil Clementi (in addition to serving as Governor of Hong Kong from 1925-1930, he was also Governor of the Straits Settlements from 1930-1934) when he was Clerk of Councils. This particular document had a very dull name, No.973 of 1908 (if the link doesn't work, just try it again) for the Executive Council. But its subject matter was slightly less prosaic: "Regulations made by the Governor-in-Council under Section 6 (f) of the Pharmacy Ordinance, 1908 (Ordinance No. 12 of 1908), for the issue of Licenses to Wholesale Dealers in Cocaine and its Salts together with the conditions on which such licenses are granted, this 23rd day of December, 1908."
It seems Christmas came early in 1908 for the narco-merchants of Hong Kong! We've described in these pages in detail how opium was the commodity upon which Hong Kong was founded, and which remained legal for consumption in the Colony until 1946. But this is the first time we've dealt with a drug that was not a derivative of the poppy - cocaine, from the coca plant.
While other countries were restricting or forbade the trade in opium by this time, Hong Kong still allowed opium to pass through its port, only regulating it within Hong Kong to maximize government revenue. While it was recognized that 'salts' like cocaine would be potentially much more injurious to the local population, the local government still adopted a very laissez-faire approach to regulating its onward traffic - and once again, China was to be the loser as a result. The fact that cocaine was classified as a 'salt' indicates that while it was illegal in Hong Kong, they felt it was justifiable to allow it to pass through Hong Kong because it could be construed in other areas as having medicinal value.
The regulations penned by Clementi basically allowed importers to bring cocaine in - as long as they did not sell any and brought it out again without any local distribution. The cocaine had to be kept in the same uniform boxes that they came in and had to be kept in a bonded warehouse awaiting onward shipping (most likely to China).
This legalized quarantine status for cocaine, a substance already regarded as dangerous throughout the British Empire, was typical for Hong Kong. The city did not only adopt a laissez-faire economic attitude, but adopted the same from an international moral perspective as well, and was supported fully by the letter (though perhaps not the spirit) of international law at that time. This character is still recognizable today, very much part of this city's personality, and has played a major role in Hong Kong's success.