Saturday, October 28, 2006

Vultures, Beasts and Dogs

An amusing statement that came out of a large public meeting in Canton in 1842 against the Western barbarians from England. I got it from this excellent Fordham University site:
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.

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.

Ah well, I guess things don't always go as planned.

The Uglification of Nathan Road

I've often seen pictures of Nathan Road as it was 100 years ago - a quiet, leafy, broad avenue, a quiet residential neighborhood for middle class Europeans. Even through the 1920s, the area remained verdant and attractive. But yet, the next photos I saw of it - during the Japanese Occupation of Hong Kong - saw the roads largely stripped bare. Even with the havoc and destruction wreaked by Nippon in those three weeks of December 1941, though, it was incredibly unlikely that they had found the time to remove the trees. So when did this transformation happen?

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:--

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.
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.

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

Why There Are No Trams in Kowloon

Here is an excerpt from a Legislative Council Session in 1923 that explains this question:
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.

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.
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.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Sex and Death, 1907

I did some more reading in some of the police blotters, this time for 1907. Some lurid, shocking stuff! Here is a sampling:
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

Falling Down Arbuthnot Road

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

A Lovely Map of Hong Kong, Circa 1866

I thought I would share with you this fantastic map that I found on the wonderful Hong Kong University website - it is taken from a book entitled, "The Treaty Ports of China and Japan", penned by one Nicholas Belfield Dennys. The chapter on Hong Kong is here. There are also many other chapters on Canton, Macao and a host of other ports, not to mention other maps. It is a great resource for those exploring the China Coast populations of the 19th century and many thanks must go to HKU's efforts to digitize their collection and share it with the rest of the world.

Enjoy! If the link doesn't work at first, try again - it can get stuck sometimes.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Legco Rises from the Ruins

Apologies once again for the lengthy hiatus. Travels have taken Stefan and I to Singapore, to Alberta, Canada, and (briefly) to San Francisco.

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.

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
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.