For those who could afford it, interwar Hong Kong had a vibrant social world. Apart from the many clubs, dinner parties, and sport events that one could attend, various civic institutions were also emerging in the colony. Scholars have explored the social lives and political careers of Chinese and Eurasian bourgeoisie in pre-war Hong Kong. Such findings hint at the emergence in interwar Hong Kong of a group of urbanites with knowledge, wealth, some power, and most importantly, a strong civic consciousness to shape the society that they lived in, a phenomenon shared by other port cities in colonial Asia. While recent research done on this phenomenon has considered how civic institutions affected the dynamics of urban Asia’s social world, these studies focus overwhelmingly on transnational associational culture and neglect the many co-existing local organizations, with which transnational associations shared a strikingly similar membership. This paper takes international networks – Freemasonry and the Rotary Club – and local organizations – the League of Fellowship and Kowloon Resident’s Association – as case studies to explore how Hong Kong’s multiracial civil society functioned within the framework of Britishness in the interwar years. In doing so, this paper also examines the roles that emerging middle-class urbanites and their self-identified status as non-elites played in Hong Kong’s multi-racial civil society.
Vivian Kong has recently completed her PhD at the University of Bristol. She is preparing a book manuscript that examines the complexity of Britishness in interwar Hong Kong. With its multi-ethnic population, urban setting, and transnational connections, Hong Kong enabled Britishness to be so much more than just ‘race’, legal identity, and national belonging. It was also an imperial tool, a civic sensibility, and a cultural attribute.
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