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Hong Kong’s History Is No Tale of Two Cities

According to the Hong Kong government’s 2021 census, 91.6% of people in the city are ethnically Chinese. The remaining 8.4% of the population descend from Indonesia, the Philippines, India, Pakistan, and various Western nations.

Were Hong Kong’s racial demographics always this way? Or did different ethnic groups pave the road for the future of Hong Kong’s diverse society?

In her book Fortune’s Bazaar, former journalist and FCC member Vaudine England makes the argument that without Armenians, Parsis, Jews, Portuguese, and Eurasians, Hong Kong could not have become well known as a thriving port city — especially after World War II, when society focused on rebuilding itself following the end of Japanese occupation.

England spoke about her book at the FCC alongside First Vice President Jennifer Jett, the moderator of the discussion. She first spoke about her writing and research process, which she found to be somewhat similar to her former work as a journalist.

“You start a book because there’s a story that you know is there, but it’s untold,” she said. “It’s been ignored, it hasn’t been written about. It’s sort of a ‘scoop’, except it’s on a historical timeframe.”

In total, it took her 10 years to finish researching for Fortune’s Bazaar. Through this process, she found herself contradicting other well-known historians, including James Hayes, a Hong Kong civil servant who published numerous books and articles on the city’s demographic history.

Hayes’s primary claim was that Hong Kong’s success story was a “tale of two cities” in which British people and Chinese people may have interacted in public, but lived completely separate family and personal lives from each other. 

“A whole lot of them [British and Chinese] were sleeping together most nights. So, he kind of missed that,” England said, reiterating her point that Eurasian families played a massive role in Hong Kong’s development.

During the audience question and answer session, England also gave her recommendations on how the HKSAR government can continue to improve its status as an international city.

With tourism campaigns like “Hello Hong Kong” following three years of strict pandemic travel restrictions, an exodus of foreign and local talent, and increasing concern over the city’s new national security legislation, Hong Kong’s title of “Asia’s World City” has come into question by the rest of the international community.

“If you want your city to be a functioning, living community port city… you need to be the kind of place that is open to people of different faiths, of different skin color – let’s be blunt – of different cultures. And they need to be able to, I mean not only ‘go ye forth and multiply’, but actually live rich, diverse lives,” England said.

England was also asked about how anyone with an interest in Hong Kong’s history should go about researching and learning more about this place. She gave two answers, books and cemeteries, both of which she finds to be rather revealing about a place’s culture and people.

Her final piece of advice touched upon how current people who find themselves moving to and living in Hong Kong aren’t too different from past generations who made the exact same migration. Many people end up staying in Hong Kong for a lifetime, which is why England insists that more people explore more of the city’s rich history.

“The fact is, all of us here now are connected to these stories of these people before us, and a lot of us came here for similar reasons. If you’re feeling you’re a part of Hong Kong, which is a place that is different to its neighbors – and why is it different? Well, I think it’s worth looking at that and finding out more about it,” she concluded.

Watch the full talk on our YouTube channel below:

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