Hong Kong: Not Just Another Chinese City

Vaudine England’s latest book, Fortune’s Bazaar – The Making of Hong Kong, has been described as the best biography of this Asian port city, thanks to its emphasis on Hong Kong’s intensely varied human history.

It’s the product of many years of research – in archives, in attics, and in new interviews with descendants of some of Hong Kong’s very first families. The well-known histories of people such as the Jardines and Swire families, or the many more numerous Chinese dynasties, are left to one side, in favour of a close-up look at who lubricated the intersections between the many different ethnic, cultural, and trading worlds of early Hong Kong.

Vaudine argues that without the Armenians, Parsis, Jews, Portuguese and above all the Eurasians of Hong Kong, this place would not have become the throbbing Asian port city it once was. She unearths the complex pasts of people as diverse as Emanuel Raphael Belilios or Sarah Endicott who raise her husband’s children from his Chinese Protected woman Ng Akew. She traces how Hong Kong was, literally, built out of the harbour, and through intense cultural intermingling evolved into a cosmopolitan city, open to all comers.

So real was this community of people from around the world that it was their sacrifice – of Eurasian soldiers during World War Two, of Portuguese, Chinese and other agents behind the lines, of Bohra traders protecting western bankers, Parsi women feeding all comers – that laid the groundwork for postwar Hong Kong. That unique Hong Kong identity was so strong, it inspired people to lay down their lives for it. It also shows that Hong Kong was more mixed, more cosmopolitan and more open than is commonly assumed.

Vaudine England was a journalist for three decades in South East Asia and Hong Kong for the BBC, Reuters, the Far Eastern Economic Review and several London newspapers. Born in New Zealand, she has lived and worked in Australia, Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, Britain and Hong Kong. She has authored several books about individuals, institutions and family companies in Hong Kong. Now based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, she is completing a PhD in Asian history at Leiden University, is a research associate with the Hong Kong History Project at Bristol University, and a co-founding director of the archives and history-making consultancy, History Ink Limited.