Friday, April 28, 2006

Deportation and the Hong Kong Identity

It has always been written, including in these pages, that the Chinese population of Hong Kong developed its own identity only after the crucible of the World War II experience of Japanese Occupation. However, in the Minutes of the Legco Meeting of November 14th, 1921 (most certainly a prewar date!), I discovered a fascinating snippet conveyed to the council by members of the Chinese Community on this subject. It was to do with the sense of injustice created by the British policy of deporting troublemakers within the Colony back to the mainland, and to prohibit them from ever returning to the Colony.

While by this date, more barbaric practices associated with 19th century colonial deportation to the mainland, such as the branding of criminals, had been discontinued, they had also been made obsolete by photography. The practice itself, which existed throughout the 19th century, was discarded but then re-introduced, with the continued belief among the colonial authorities that the Chinese of Hong Kong were sojourners, short-term residents just trying to make their money before returning home - in fact, just like the British residents themselves.

But in the statement of the Chinese Unofficial Member, the Honourable Mr. Lau Chu-Pak, he states otherwise:
MR. LAU CHU-PAK: I take this opportunity to say a few words in connection with the Deportation Ordinance, recently introduced and passed. Many Chinese view with alarm the possibilities of such an enactment. Under it, any one, whether he is a British subject or not, is liable to deportation by the mandate of the Executive. I do not say that the law would be enforced arbitrarily, but when it exists, it affords a chance - however remote - for its being so exercised. The law, as it now stands, affects certain sections of the Chinese more than it does any other people, more than even the English, for they can return to their native land, whereas the native of Hongkong and the New Territories have their permanent homes in these two places only, and would have nowhere else to go to, if forced out of the Colony. I submit this point for the favourable consideration of the Executive so that the liberty and livelihood of the native-born of this Colony may be better assured.
It stands to reason, that even if Hong Kong's Chinese population were almost all originally immigrants and migrant workers from China, that many of them did, contrary to even their own expectations, settle down in the city. Furthermore, there were many native residents of Kowloon and the more recently acquired New Territories (1898) whose family had lived in that area for six or more centuries. In such cases, deportation would be a gross alienation of that person's rights, whatever crime had been committed. Yet in the post-World War I fears of leftist and Communist uprisings, deportation was seen as a strict but ultimately legitimate form of punishment that the Government could use against its Chinese subjects.

This of course required in its exercise the belief that the Chinese were still the sojourners they always were, and held to be a self-evident truth about the Colony in the colonial imagination. But the fact that this attitude existed until well after World War II belies the fact that already by 1921, many Chinese regarded Hong Kong as their first, and indeed their only, home.

Wanchai's Peak Tram

I am really rather fond of Wanchai, mainly because I used to live there, and would often go for great walks from around Hopewell, up the steep incline that is Wanchai Gap Road. Passing the resting point on Bowen Road, I would keep walking up the vertiginous, verdant valleyway (yes I saw V for Vendetta recently) until I arrived at the Wanchai Gap (nearby incidentally is the very interesting Police Museum, which among other things demonstrates how to build a heroin still). How I would envy those living in this area, on Coombe Road or on the opposite ridge.

Heading due south would take me to the far end of the island, to the Aberdeen reservoir. But normally I would cross the road and then take an immediate left onto Black's Link, that wonderful path that affords spectacular views both of the city and of the residences and Ocean Park to the south. I would end up by Wong Nai Chung Gap, which by the way, since last August, has had a wonderfully signposted memorial walk indicating notable points of the World War II battlefield (you'll find it right next to the entrance to Parkview).

I only discovered today, though, that at one point in the 1920s, the Colonial Administration was actually considering building another funicular right up Wanchai Gap Road to make room for more European settlers of 'moderate means'; in other words, those being squeezed out of existing areas by the skyrocketing Chinese population. Allow me to quote the November 14th, 1921 minutes of the Legco meeting:
MR. H.E. POLLOCK: As regards the projected tramway to Wanchai Gap, the unofficial members would suggest that the question be gone into as to whether it would not be preferable to carry up such tramway (a little to the East of Wanchai Gap) almost up to the top of Mount Cameron [i.e. up Black's Link- Ed.] as it would seem possible that, with branch roads (ricksha roads) at intervals from the stations on such tramway, an increase could be made in sites available for building at different levels on Mount Cameron, the first station from the bottom being on Black's Link, the second and third at different levels above that, and the fourth station being at the top of the Tramway. It may also be pointed out, if it be suggested that the time is hardly ripe for such a tramway, that the tramway would take some time to construct and furthermore that, when the present Peak Tramway was opened in May, 1888, there were then only about a dozen houses in the Peak District and half a dozen houses in the Magazine Gap District. Moreover a tram is obviously the only feasible means of approach enabling those of moderate means to reside in the Mount Cameron District and is also indispensable for the transport of provisions and other necessaries.
It has to be remembered that the connecting road between Stubbs Road and Peak Road did not exist - indeed, the Peak Road did not exist at all (hence why the way up then called Peak Road is called 'Old Peak Road' today), and the Governor of the day Sir Reginald Edward Stubbs, had not yet completed the road that would be named after him.

I believe that the reason this tramway was never built was due to lack of funds, with the economic depression and the strikes of 1922 and 1925 with its unrest causing the Colonial Government to cancel nonessential projects such as this. Particularly since this project's aim was clearly to create a second European enclave that would further cement division between British and Chinese residents. Even though the roads such as Stubbs Road and Peak Road were more difficult to build and more expensive, the Government ultimately opted for the option that would serve a wider variety of purposes (including access to the Peak) and not to build many more houses in the Mount Cameron area. Today, you can still see the magnificent houses on Mount Cameron, particularly when walking up from the Aberdeen Valley, but it never became as settled as Victoria Peak.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Jardine House Podcast

This is a new experiment, a podcast of my most recent local RTHK 3 radio segment. Today's subject was Jardine House. Have a listen by clicking on the title ("Jardine House Podcast")or this link and tell me what you think!

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Sharp Mr. Shewan

Shewan Tomes was one of the premier stockbroking and investment firms in Hong Kong at the turn of the century. It was, among other places, a great training and learning experience for the great investor Noel Croucher. Mr. Shewan, one of the principals of the firm, was for a time engaged as a Legislative Councillor. It seems, though, that he took the sharp tongue he brought to company annual meetings into the Council chamber, which may explain why he was not invited back overmuch. 101 years ago, Mr. Shewan went on a tirade about then Governor Nathan's policies. We all remember Mr. Nathan today for his incredible feats of engineering - the KCR, and the eponymous Nathan Road that he built to first mockery, and then acclaim, from the local population. Mr. Shewan, however, has nothing but criticism for Governor Nathan and his PWD deputies' efforts:
I am glad to hear that something is to be done to give better roads to Kowloon, but why does the Government tinker with the matter in this way? Why can it not draw up a fixed and definite scheme of wide roads and broad boulevards for Kowloon and the New Territory to which all building sites and building must conform instead of the present haphazard system of running a street here and a road there just as some one happens to put up a house? It will have to be done all over again just as in London to-day they have a Royal Commission, whose reports runs into 8 volumes, laying down a scheme of road improvements for London which is estimated to cost thirty million poinds nearly, all of which might have been avoided and saved if the Government of a former day had adopted the advice and carried out the plans submitted to them by Sir Christopher Wren and John Evelyn for the rebuilding of the town after the Great Fire of London. It will be the same with Kowloon later on if we do not look ahead and exercise a little forethought and imagination.
Mr. Shewan's comments at that point descend into general moaning about the state of things in Hong Kong:
In another case a concern was called to account for making a path to a piece of ground on the top of a hill which it has bought from the Government, although in what other way the men, not being birds, were supposed to get there I have never understood. In [another] case it was attempted to bring a factory to book for having built a well within its curtilage, but this fell through because on being asked, the Government could not explain what a curtilage was.
Finally, in a final thumbing of the nose at Colonial Britain and its representatives in Hong Kong:
With regard to the last item touched upon by your Excellency, "Sport," I am quite in agreement with Mr. Kipling and do not think in this Colony it requires any encouragement. If our young men were but to serve their masters as dilingently as they serve their god "Sport," we should not see the British slowly driven out of the trade of China by the hard-working German, the thrifty Japanese, and the untiring Chinaman. In trade and commerce to-day the race is to the man who gives himself entirely up to it, and who, like St. Paul, has put away childish things. We shall never regain our old position in the Far East by encouraging our men to dream all day of polo ponies, cricket matches, and boat races.
To the company men of the Far East, who lived for sport and few other extracurricular activities, these were hard words...

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Peculiar Hong Kong Portuguese and the Census

Happy Easter to one and all! Today I thought I would share with all of you some amusing highlights from the 1911 Hong Kong census. It begins in uncharacteristically energetic fashion as follows:
The decennial Census of the Colony was taken on the night of Saturday, 20th May. A date in the early summer is not so suitable as one in the winter, so far as this Colony is concerned, but there was no alternative on the present occasion as it was necessary for the local Census to take place on a date approximating as nearly as possible to that fixed for the General Census of the British Empire.

The Enumerators were consdierably hampered by the inclemency of the weather, there being almost continuous rain. In the Kowloon City District operations had to be suspended for a time on account of floods.

The Census was on a very much more ambitious scale than had ever before been attempted in this Colony, and the work of the Enumerators, and more especially of the tabulating staff, was correspondingly increased. Full particulars were obtained for all the inhabitants of the New Territories and the Flating Population.
So, a tough job and away they went. The Census recorded a levelling off of an increasing trend in the Europeans, due to some boom years that had happened between the two previous Censuses (or is it Censii?) in 1901 and 1906. As has always been the case, though, the Portuguese were not included among the Europeans:
The Portuguese number 2,558 as compared with 1,948 in 1901 and 2,307 in 1906. They are not included in some of the Tables with the rest of the European and American community, as, apart from the importance of their numbers, they occupy a somewhat peculiar position as compared with other nationalities. I cannot do better than quote Mr. Brewin's words in his Report on the 1897 Census: "there is sufficient distinction between the Portuguese population and other Europeans to make this division advisable and interesting. The Portuguese of Hongkong form a European community settled in the Tropics, thoroughly acclimatised, and apparently not recruited to any estent from Europe. It will not be for another geenration that any other portion of the European community will be in a similar position."
Mr. Brewin was politiely saying that the Portuguese had gone native, and therefore should be treated more as such.

The roots of Portuguese and their mixed ancestry of course goes back centuries. During the Age of Discovery, when Portugal had a population of less than one million and yet held many key ports on the Africa-Asia trade route, Afonso de Alberquerque realized that these ports could only be held by Portugal if its soldiers and sailors mixed with the local population to create an indigenous ruling elite with a stake in both their city and in Portugal's rule of it. That horrible word, 'miscegenation', or a mixing of the races, was actively encouraged for Portuguese from Zanzibar to Hormuz to Goa and beyond, particularly since so few Portuguese women could be persuaded to go on what were extremely hazardous voyages.

But back to the Census, this time in its tackling of Hong Kong's then large floating population:
The Census of the Floating Population of Victoria Harbour was commenced at 6 a.m. on 21st May, and completed at 6 p.m. on 27th May.

The general arrangements were the same as in 1906. The work was very heavy owing to full articulars having to be obtained for each person, only Sex and Age having been required at the previous Census. The books of schedules were extremely useful, and it would have been impossible to use loose forms.

The Harbour was divided into 9 Sections. Each section had one launch and two pulling boats or sampans.

The latter were used for going among the thick clusters of boats along the sea front, where a launch was unable to work. Each sampan hoisted a Blue Ensign at the masthead, so that she would be recognized by the section launch, and carried two Enumerators. One of the latter asked the necessary questions,a nd his companion recorded the answers in a book of schedule forms. Two Enumerators were incapacitated by sea-sickness, and had to be transferred to shore work.

Thanks to the Census Officer, a Mr. P.P.J. Wodehouse (presumably no relation to the rather funny comic British writer of the same era).

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Street Criers of Hong Kong, Circa 1872

Today I stumbled upon an article in the old China Review, published all the way back in 1872, and written by a curious Victorian interested in the hawkers of Hong Kong, or Hongkong as the old colonials knew the city. It was entitled, "Chinese Street-Cries in Hongkong", and is quite amusing in that the gulf between East and West was so great, and their languages so mutually unintelligible, that there is an element in the writing of a naturalist observing a different species. The author, the Reverend J. Nacken, appears though to have been genuinely interested in learning Cantonese (no doubt to communicate to new or potential converts) and paints a colorful picture of Hong Kong street life.

I shall just provide to you a short excerpt:
My friend was sitting at his desk, busy, no doubt, in framing the best-worded sentence ever penned in the East, when a howl from the street rang through the lofty verandah, and rebounded, as it were, from the high ceilings of the room. "That's one of those ubiquitous hawkers," said my friend angrily, springing to his feet and rushing to the verandah to have a look at the back of the disturber. I joined my friend quietly and was just in time to see a pair of broad shoulders raising themselves, and a pig-tailed head bending backwards; and then came a second edition of the howl we had heard before. I myself, being of an asthmatic nature, rather envied the sturdy fellow who could carry so much on his shoulders and walk a brisk pace, and yet have breath enough left to utter such stentorian sounds.

"What does that fellow call out?" my friend asked. I could not say, though I had been in China for some years, and, as my friend remarked, ought to know, if I pretended to know Chinese at all.

That was some years ago. In the meantime others like my friend must have suffered from the annoyance which led to the framing of Ordinance No. 8 of 1872, which says that:-

"Every person is liable to a Penalty who shall use or utter Cries for Purpose of buying or selling any articles whatever,...within any District or Place not permitted by some Regulation of the Governor in Council."

For the hawkers of Hongkong wooden tickets are provided which must be renewed every quarter at a cost of 50 cents. These tickets are signed by the Registrar General and have a notice stamped on their back which states that crying out is prohibited in Chung-wan, [Central- Ed.] on the great road, [Queen's Road - Ed.], and on the sea side. For the first quarter of this year 1082 tickets for hawkers were issued and for the second quarter 1146.

Assuming that every hawker cries once in a minute (many do it oftener) and that, on an average, his business keeps him out of doors for seven hours a day, this will make about half a million street cries every day. Besides these licensed hawkers, however, there are about as many other persons, old and young, who cry out with the objects of attracting attention to their trade. This would give about one million street cries a-day on this Island. That may seem an extravagant calculation on my part; but if some one will stand for ten minutes on any spot in the busy parts of the Chinese quarter and count the street-criers who pass by, he will doubtless become inclined to agree with the above estimate.
In the rest of the article, he describes the manner of products sold by hawkers, including a summary of the different items sold, like zhue huet djok (pig's blood congee), and different itinerants selling their wares and services. It is a fascinating, colorful picture that he paints, and I recommend you read the article. In any case, it seems, 19th century Hong Kong was as noisy a city as it remains today!

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Hong Kong Democracy Debate of 1896

In 1896, one of the leading citizens of Hong Kong, and a Member of the Legislative Council, the Honourable T.H. Whitehead, sent a petition to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, asking that the form of Hong Kong's government be changed. He felt that instead of simply being a Colony with a Governor and a rubber stamp legislature, it should have a Municipal Council (similar to Shanghai's International Settlement) that would decide real matters of policy. Ultimately, he was thwarted in his bid by dissenting opinions from the Governor (William Robinson), the Colonial Secretary, (Stewart Lockhart), the head of Jardines (J. J. Keswick), and the head Director of the HSBC company (E.R. Belilios). But his words still ring true over a century after their being committed to paper:
It is a little over 50 years since the Colony was founded as a barren rock, the abode of a few fishermen and pirates. To-day it is a City and Settlement with upwards of a quarter of a million inhabitants; a trade estimated at about Forty millions of pounds sterling per annum, and a revenue of some Two millions of dollars, wholly derived from internal taxation...

Hongkong has attained to its almost unequalled commercial position, through the enterprise, skill, and energy of British Merchants, Traders, and Shipowners; through the labours of Her Majesty's subjects who have spent their lives and employed their capital on its shores; through the expenditure of many millions of dollars in Roads, Streets, and Bridges; in buildings, public and private; in extensive Reclamations; in Docks, Piers, and Wharves; and last, but not least, in Manufactures of great and increasing value. The prosperity of the Colony can best be maintained by the unremitting exertions and self-sacrifice of your Pentitioners and the valuable co-operation and support of the Chinese, and only by the continuance of Hongkong as a free port.

Notwithstanding the whole interests of your Petitioners are thus inextricably and permanently bound up in the good Administration of the Colony, in the efficiency of its Executive, and the soundness of its Finance, your Petitioners are allowed to take only a limited part or small share in the Government of the Colony, and are not permitted to have any really effective voice in the management of its affairs, external or internal. Being purely a Crown Colony, it is governed by a Governor appointed by Her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen, and by an Executive and a Legislative Council. The former is composed wholly of Officers of the Crown, nominated and appointed by the Crownl the latter consists of seven Official Members, selected and appointed by the Queen, and five Unofficial Members, two of whom are nominated by certain public bodies in the Colony, while the other three are selected by the Governor, and all are appointed by Her Majesty.

The Executive Council sits and deliberates in secret. The Legislative Council sits with open doors, and its procedure appears to admit of full and unfettered discussion, but there is virtually no true freedom of debate. Questions are considered, and settled, and the policy to be adopted by the Government in connection therewith is decided in the Executive Council. They are then brought before the Legislative Council, where the Government - the Official Members being in a majority - can secure the passing of any measure, in face of any opposition on the part of the Unofficial Members, who are thus limited to onkecting and protesting, and have no power to carry any proposal which they may consider beneficial, nor have they power to reject or even modify any measure which may in their opinion be prejudicial to the interests of the Colony.


Legislative Enactments are nearly always drafted by the Attorney General, are frequently forwarded before publication in the Colony or to the Council for the approval of the Secretary of State, and when sanctioned are introduced into the Legislative Council, read a first, second, and third time, and passed by the votes of the Official Members, acting in obedience to instructions, irrespective of their personal views or private opinions.

The Legislation so prepared and passed emanates in some cases from persons whose short experience of and want of actual touch witht eh Colony's needs, does not qualify them to fully appreciate the measures best suited to the requirements of the Community.
Whitehead goes on to say that the Unofficial Members of Legco are of course the ones that have the requisite experience, given that they were mostly selected for having lived in Hong Kong for a long time and having prominent business interests there. He also cites the examples of Colonies such as Malta, Cyprus, Mauritius, British Honduras and others that have a greater amount of non-Official Members represented, including on Executive Councils.

He left the door open for interpretation, and while suggesting that Hong Kong could be made a more representative city, he stopped short of calling for elections, only suggesting that a majority of the constitution of legco be people that would be non-government officials. Yet he was rebuffed totally, with the Colonial Secretary in particular launching a vicious attack on him. My favorite part of Lockhart's rebuttal is where he says that the majority of the population was Chinese, and therefore any British unofficials could not possibly represent them, which in turn meant that representative government was impossible:
"The Chinese and the British merchants have absolutely no intercourse except that of a commercial nature."[Really? - Ed.] Between the two populations there is a gulf almost as wide as there was a quarter of a century or even fifty years ago.

"It is true that there arte more Chinese who can speak English than formerly, but the proportion they bear to the whole is infinitesimal, the large majority of the Chinese being as ignorant of our language as ther British resident is of Chinese. Under such conditions as these it is not surprising that knowledge of Chinese, their customs and their peculiar requirements should be a sealed book to the British resident, whose intercourse with the Chinese [there's the I-word again - Ed.] is of the most limited nature, being almost exclusive confined to a discussion fo markets, goods and prices carried on in a jargon called "pidgin" English. With such a medium of expression an interchange of ideas is practically impossible and is, indeed, rarely attempted. When therefore the petitioners in paragraph 8 of their petition describe the Unofficial Members as the natural possesors of "knowledge and experience," it is impossible that they can mean "knowledge and experience" of the Chinese and Chinese requirements, for, of them, it is notorious that they are very ignorant.
While it was true that the Unofficial Members of Legco were largely unable to speak Chinese, it is also true that democracy and representative government has always started somewhere, and that franchise of only British residents was probably going to be the one most likely to get any approval from London. While Lockhart on the one had decried the racism of the proposal, he also shuddered at the thought of Chinese having representation.

Jardine's Keswick evidently agreed, for he also wrote a letter against the petition, despite being an Unofficial Member: "If this prayer were granted it would be necessary in common justice to give the Chinese adequate representation based either (a) on numbers, or (b) on taxation. In either case the Chinese must indisputably be given their full weight, in the case of (a) in respect of their numbers, or in the case of (b) in respect of the taxes paid by them. In either case where would British interests in Hongkong be?"

Basically, because the Chinese were a majority, and because they were the largest taxpayers in Hongkong, the thought of even trying representative government in Hongkong horrified the local establishment. Which was correct, too, because it would keep power in the hands of Britain and the local magnates - as long as Britain could maintain sovereignty in Hong Kong. But it may shed light today on why no democratic experiment was ever begun sooner...

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Pokfulam Christian Chinese Cemetery

I am not sure how many of you know, but I have been doing a brief radio segment once a week for RTHK 3, on Wednesdays or Thursdays for the excellent Sarah Passmore on her show, the Naked Lunch. Normally the content of the show, done on location and about the unique and peculiar history of a location or an idea it represents, is different from the material on the blog, but I thought I'd mention the show to all of you and to let you know about it. As a sample, I shall enclose the script I write before recording the segment (sometimes I don't use it, but did this week). Hope you find it interesting!
This week is Ching Ming, a traditional time when Chinese visit the graves of their ancestors and pay their respects, clean the graves, and make offerings for them in the afterlife. Ancestor worship, as many of us know, is a fundamental tenet of Confucian tradition and of Chinese cultural life. Today brings me to a rather interesting place – the Christian Cemetery in Pokfulam. Roughly 10% of Hong Kong’s population regard themselves as Christians. Much like non-Christian Chinese, cemetery visitors are much more in evidence during Ching Ming, and the flower vendors on Victoria Road appear to be doing a roaring trade. But here burnt offerings are not so much in evidence, due to differing visions Christian Chinese hold of the afterlife. It does bring up an interesting point though – at what point do rituals of ancestor respect end and ancestor worship begin?

It has been a question that has plagued Christian doctrine in China since the earliest days of contact with the West. It may even have engaged the minds of Nestorian Christians on the Silk Road during the Tang dynasty, although much less evidence exists for that. But for the Jesuits of Macau in the 16th century, it was a real problem, because the Christian idea that there was only one God had to be squared with the fundamental Chinese custom of praying not only for, but also to, one’s ancestors.

Their solution was simple – seeking first and foremost a large volume of converts, they leniently tolerated the practice of what they called ‘ancestor veneration’ as simply a cultural idiosyncrasy. In fact, Jesuits like Matteo Ricci embraced the Confucian classics wholeheartedly, and wowed the Chinese literati with his ability to recite those texts both forwards and backwards. Overall, the vision of the Jesuit mission in China was to impress upon the Chinese how compatible Christianity was with their own culture. Certainly many Chinese agreed, and became converts in the late Ming and early Qing dynasty. Even the Kangxi Emperor initially saw the Christians as a force for good and it is said even became a convert himself.

But trouble was brewing back in Rome. By the 17th century, the more orthodox Dominican Order became infuriated with the Jesuit success in converting Chinese on the back of this cultural tolerance. They were particularly aggrieved by the allowance of Chinese ancestor worship, which they felt was totally incompatible with the belief in one God. You have to remember, that this was the time of the Counter-Reformation, and was not a time of great tolerance for the Catholic Church in Europe.

The battles between the Jesuits and the Dominicans became so fierce that they once erupted into a pitched battle between the sects in Macau, with the Dominicans under siege in their own church at the far end of the Senado Square. The Jesuit commander, on ordering the attack on the Church of St. Dominic, reportedly said: “Genuflect, and fire!” But while the Jesuits were dominant in China, the Dominicans grew strong at home, and eventually got the Pope to condemn ancestor worship as incompatible with Christianity. The Pope also insisted that Chinese coverts use the Latin word for God – even though ‘Deo’ did not sound like a Supreme Deity to Cantonese ears. Emperor Kangxi was outraged and threw out all Christian missionaries for being so stubborn. If the Jesuits had their way, perhaps Ching Ming as we know it might have been entirely different…

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Across 127 Aprils

Today seems a rather inauspicious date in history by Chinese reckoning, given that the number 4 (which sounds like death) appears twice. Supporters of Chiang Kai-Shek might have found it so, as the man that had dominated headlines in China for half a century expired on this date on April 4th, 1975.

I allude in my title to an excellent work of historical fiction entitled "Across Five Aprils,", about the experience of one family divided by the American Civil War. Perhaps also apropos for the battle of civil liberties left very much unfinished by that conflict, and that had to wait until the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s; today after all, was the day Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, as all you U2 fans should remember.

But it is Hong Kong I speak of now, and the fascinating Magistrate's Court Summary from April 7th, 1879 that notes the cases for which a cross-section of Hong Kong's population were prosecuted. What is notable about these cases is that many of them are not crimes today, or at least would have been prosecuted for different reasons. The sparing language of the magistrate's court nevertheless betrays a way of life for the Hong Kong Chinese that speaks volumes about the adjustments they had to make in a British Colony with alien rules:
...3. Lo A-hoi, a carpenter, was on the 31st March convicted of attempting to use a certificate of registration belonging to another person, whilst offering himself as security for a prisoner at the Magistracy, and fined $10 or twenty-one days' imprisonment in default.

4. Ho A-wan, a widow, was convicted on the 1st April of exposing the dead body of a female child at a timber shed in Second Street. [my car mechanic's garage is there now! - Ed.] The Magistrate fined her $20 or seven days' imprisonment with hard labour.

5. Fong A-yat, an accountant of the "Fau-On" pawnshop at Wellington Street, was convicted on the 1st instant [April-Ed.] of having in his possession a quantity of prepared opium without a permit from the Opium Farmer. He was fined $200 or three months' imprisonment with hard labour and the whole of the opium and utensils seized, together with a moiety of the fine, if paid, were declared by the Magistrate as forfeited to the Opium Farmer [The person or company that had bought the monopoly license from the government that year to exclusively vend opium to retailers].

6. Lau A-him, a mat-packer, was on the 4th instant convicted of having in his possession a tin of prepared opium without a permit from the Opium Farmer, and was sentenced to pay a fine of $50, and in default of payment to be imprisoned for four weeks with hard labour. The opium found was ordered to be confiscated and delivered to the Opium Farmer.

7. Lau A-him [naughty boy - Ed.], the same person as above, was further convicted of offering a bribe to a Constable, and fined $10, in default of payment to be imprisoned for seven days with hard labour, the same taking effect at expiration of the sentence in the above case.[Obviously the bribed offered was not big enough - Ed.]

8. Tang Wan-hing, master of the "Hang-mau-I-ki" chandlery, was convicted on the 1st instant of giving a receipt for a sum of money exceeding $10 without affixing a receipt stamp to it, and fined $10 or twenty-one days' imprisonment.

9. Fung A-po, an old offender, wo had been several tims in Gaol and finally banished, [he was probably branded - Ed.] was charged with returning to the Colony ebfore the expiry of the term of his banishment. The Magistrate sentenced him to twelve months' imprisonment with hard labour, on the 3rd instant.

10. Sham A-wai, proprietor of the 'Tai-shing' shop was summoned at the instance of the Inspector of Markets for keeping kerosine oil in his shop in contravention of section XI of the Dangerous Goods Ordinance, 1873. He admitted the offence, but pleaded ignorance of the law. The Magistrate inflicted a fine of $50 in this instance, and told the Defendant that he was liable under the Ordinance to a penalty of $100 a day for each day during which the oil was so kept.
A groundbreaking study done by Christopher Munn a few years ago revealed that as much as 8% of the Chinese population in Hong Kong a few decades earlier (in the 1850s) had been subject to the court system. This indicated an unfamiliarity with many of what seemed to the Chinese at the time entirely byzantine and arbitrary rules by which the gwailos wanted to govern the city. Given that most of the growth in Hong Kong was attributable to new immigration, many newcomers to the city learned the hard way how not to cross the local legal system...

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Bank

Pardon the off-again, on-again posting - due to work commitments, I fear this season I shall not be able to entertain a daily post on the urban heritage of East Asia. However, I shall certainly keep trying!

March 3rd [I originally had April 3rd here, thanks to Madame Chiang for pointing out my mistake!] was actually the 141st anniverary of the founding of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. It was the brainchild of a shipping man, Sir Thomas Sutherland, who had never had a banking account in his life.

Sir Thomas, who was the area manager of the Peninsular and Oriental (yes, the very same that was very controversially purchased by Dubai Ports World earlier this year), was a vexed man.
Hong Kong did not have a proper bank in its first quarter century or so as a British possession (or before that either). The main banking business, which was commercial lending, was offered by the big trading firms of Jardines, Dent's and Russell's. Great for them, but bad for the smaller firms that were trying to compete with them. So a company was to be formed called the Royal Bank of India and China. The problem was, these fellows that were forming this bank for Hong Kong were based in Calcutta, and thought that they could create the bank and only offer a small minority of shares to businesses actually in Hong Kong. This was a big mistake - because it really got Sir Thomas thinking.

On a trip back to Hong Kong on a steamer, the Scotsman was reading the colonial Blackwood's magazine. He read some articles about banking that made him think that it was be 'rather simple' to found a bank based on what he called 'Scottish principles' - thrift, hard-work and a canny eye for business and investment. He recounted later that after he arrived he spent all night writing a business plan, and the next day went to Hong Kong's best lawyer, Mr. Pollard, and told him: "Sir, you may make a business of this."

The local hongs, appreciating the threat the Raj-based bankers posed to their business, almost all signed on - and the shares were quickly oversubscribed. Financing the trade in opium was still big business as well as newer projects based in China. The Royal Bank of India and China, when its promoters arrived in Hong Kong, did not stand a chance. The company returned to India to die a quiet death.

So it was that a Scotsman whose only experience with finance was an overdrawn account with his compradore created one of the world's foremost financial institutions, based, then and now, to 'Scottish principles.'