The first traders landed on Hong Kong island officially in 1841. Within five years, they had built an imposing Club, mostly just called The Club - it was the only one - but formally named The Hongkong Club. As a self-described home to what mattered in Hong Kong — trade, defence, British rule —its history in many ways fits all those cliches people have. Yes the founding men came from Jardines, Dents and other leading trading houses such as Turner & Co. Yes, it was all about men, white men, and one needed to be a ‘gentleman’ as defined by the mores of the time. However, the Club’s history has thrown up many surprises, showing certain personalities or attitudes which buck that cliche, and suggesting our notions of early colonialism are often too simple. Some characters were quite outrageous, some were genuinely concerned about and committed to Hong Kong’s richly diverse community, yet others were quite average middle class men in suits. Contrary to some versions of history, those men did not preside over a Hong Kong community that was only Chinese; many did not preside, and the community was Eurasian, Malay, Filipino, Parsee, Armenia, Jew, and many very different kinds of Chinese. Definitions of Britishness have evolved, as have those of the non-British. Not until a century after the Club opened were members of what the Club leaders called the Local Community allowed to join. Not until 1996, were women able to join as full members in their own right. This Club, as with most institutions in Hong Kong, lacked any pre-war records. Discovering its rich past was like opening a Cold Case File and involved a lot of archival research and lateral thinking. The process and its result shows just how much is still to be discovered about Hong Kong’s past, and about what it is to be a Hong Konger.
Vaudine England has worked for many years in journalism in Hong Kong and across South East Asia, for various newspapers, the BBC, and the Far Eastern Economic Review. She now concentrates on in-depth research and writing of Hong Kong history, and its links to South East Asia. Her first book was The Quest of Noel Croucher, Hong Kong’s Quiet Philanthropist, published by Hong Kong University Press in 1998. Since then she has engaged in several institutional histories and is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol's Hong Kong History Project.
Date Friday 20 January 2017
Time: Reception opens 6:30pm, talk begins 7:00pm
Venue: Centre for Visual Arts (CVA), 7A, Kennedy Rpad, Mid-Levels
Admission: RAS members HK$100. Non-members/guests HK$150
Booking: Please email firstname.lastname@example.org in advance to reserve your place and pay at the door.