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Here you'll find over 50,000 pages about old Hong Kong to explore, including over 30,000 photos. The content is added by a friendly community of people who enjoy sharing what we know about Hong Kong's history, and you are very welcome to join us.

Kind regards, David

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Photo (4): Jinrickshaws and Portable Chairs

Submitted by David on Sun, 10/01/2023 - 17:00
1880s Jinrickisha and carrying chairs

About a third of the Illustrated London News (ILN) page is taken up with sketches of what they describe as ‘Jinrickshaws’ and ‘Portable Chairs or Litters’. This photo shows them too, though its title is ‘Jinrickisha and carrying chairs’. Today we call them rickshaws and sedan chairs.

Sedan chairs were the older of the two. The ILN’s readers would have recognised them, but would have seen them as quaint and old fashioned. Sedan chairs had been popular in London in the 1600s and 1700s, but had disappeared from the streets by the mid-1800s.

Sedan chairs had a much longer history in China, and were still in widespread use in the 1840s. They quickly became the standard means of transport in Hong Kong. As seen in the photo above, there were several different styles of chair in use. Front and centre is the chair carrying the bearded man wearing a topee (sun hat).

1880s lightweight sedan chair

He’s using the most basic form of chair, a simple seat and footrest suspended from two poles, minimising the weight for the carriers.

Beyond him, the woman is sitting in the more usual type of chair where the passenger sits semi-enclosed. I’m used to seeing her style of chair with the roof and the man’s lighter chair without, but here they’re reversed, with the woman relying on her parasol for shade.

1880s sedan chair

A team of four men carry her chair. Sometimes the larger team was needed to handle a long, uphill climb, but other times it was used as a way to show off the rider’s status. Here’s the Prince of Wales visiting Hong Kong in 1922, his sedan chair carried by a team of eight!

Prince of Wales in sedan chair

Despite the sedan chair’s early success, they were quickly overtaken by the newly arrived rickshaws. Originating from Japan, the rickshaw first appeared on Hong Kong’s streets in 1874. That was a privately owned vehicle, but it started a trend that led to rickshaws being made available for public hire in 1880.

If you turn back to the ILN sketches and look at the rickshaw on the left, can you spot what is unusual about it?

New on Gwulo: 2023, week 38

Submitted by David on Sat, 09/23/2023 - 12:12

What's new and updated on the Gwulo website:


Photo (1): Sketches at Hong Kong

Submitted by David on Sat, 09/09/2023 - 12:00
'Sketches at Hong Kong'

One year after the 1881 census, the Illustrated London News (ILN) published this full-page engraving, titled ‘Sketches at Hong Kong’.

The ILN was almost the same age as British Hong Kong, first appearing in 1842. It caused a stir, looking very different from the typical newspaper of the time. Where the newspaper norm was text and lots of it, issue No. 1 of the ILN crammed 32 illustrations into its 16 pages.

This new style was a great success, with the growth of the ILN outpacing even Hong Kong’s. By the end of 1842 circulation had passed 60,000. It reached 200,000 in 1855, and continued to grow.

The illustrations that drove these sales were produced by skilled engravers. They’d receive artists’ sketches, or later photographs, and set to work engraving the images for use on the printing presses. I imagined they’d be engraving metal plates, but in fact they used wooden blocks. Not just any wood though, they used a very dense, hard type of wood known as boxwood. In use, the boxwood blocks were harder wearing than the metal plates of the day, an important point when they’d have to print hundreds of thousands of copies. 

The huge volume of copies printed means that many have survived, making them a good source of images of early Hong Kong. We mustn’t assume they’re all accurate, however. If the original image wasn’t very clear the engravers would need to use their own judgement, and having never been to Hong Kong they could easily make mistakes.

Fortunately there aren’t any glaring mistakes here. The artist not only did a good job of sketching, but also of choosing scenes that would be popular with overseas viewers. I doubt the artist had any plans to start a trend, but as we look at the postcards sold to tourists thirty, forty, and even fifty years later, we’ll see many of these themes repeated.

The engraving has a lot more detail than you can see here. To take a closer look you can use Gwulo's Zoom feature. I've recorded a short video showing how it works: How to zoom in to photos on Gwulo

New on Gwulo: 2023, week 35

Submitted by David on Sat, 09/02/2023 - 20:00

What's new and updated on the Gwulo website: