Welcome to Gwulo

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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Sew-sew women and bound feet

Submitted by David on Sun, 08/27/2023 - 16:00

This is the third and last of my recent purchases.

Sew-sew women and bound feet


Who: The main characters are two 'sew-sew' women, who would mend and adjust items of clothing for a small fee. There is also a younger girl - probably a daughter of one of the women - with her back to us, leaning against the little stool on the right. I've just been writing about a similar photo for a section on hawkers in my next book, which is why this one caught my eye.

What: Their baskets carry scraps of material they use in their work, and also the pot that held their lunch.

Baskets and pans

The other photo I mentioned showed similar items, but under the magnifying glass I also noticed a difference.

1950s Sampans at Shau Kei Wan

Submitted by David on Sun, 08/20/2023 - 23:00
1950s Sampans at Shau Kei Wan


Who: The main characters in this scene are the people on the sampan in the foreground.

People on sampan

As far as I can remember, in most if not all the photos we have of sampans, it is a woman rowing. (While in the photos we have of western-style rowing boats, the crews are always men.) This photo follows the pattern, with a smiling young mother rowing the boat.

Her two passengers are presumably heading out to one of the larger boats in the harbour. The fishermen typically wore dark clothes, not lighter colours that show the dirt more easily. So perhaps the man at the front of the boat is visiting on business, or maybe he is heading back to a boat after attending some special occasion ashore?

What: The boat above the lady has two large baskets hanging off the back. They are two very different designs, so were they made for specific uses?

Baskets on sampan

Several of the other boats are festooned with laundry, including a fancy three-level washing line on the boat in the distance (Update: JohnS notes the three-level line is more likely being used to dry fish). Must have been good drying weather that day!

Laundry drying on boats


Where: The postcard originally had this caption at bottom left, identifying the location as the harbour at Shau Kei Wan.

Postcard caption


When: This is a Real Photo Postcard (RPPC), but as they were sold in Hong Kong from the 1920s through to the 1950s, it doesn't narrow down the date very much. 

Sometimes the back of an RPPC is pre-printed with details of the paper's manufacturer, and that can help pin down the date.

Back of postcard ET001

No manufacturer's details here though. Instead the paper looks to have been sold with a blank back, then the postcard seller used an inked stamp to add the text and the 'W H' stamp box. From the Hong Kong RPPCs I've seen, those with pre-printed backs were mostly produced before WW2, while those with stamped backs came after the war. Based on that, I'll guess the 1950s for the date this photo was taken.

If you can spot any clues in the photo that help identify the date, or if you have a mailed copy of this postcard with a postmark that shows a date, please let us know in the comments below.

New on Gwulo: 2023, week 26

Submitted by David on Sat, 07/01/2023 - 17:00

Gwulo's weekly newsletter takes a summer break: I'm heading to the UK on Monday to spend time with my family, coming back to Hong Kong in mid-August.

I won't be sending out any newsletters while I'm away, but if you'd like to keep up with additions to the site you're welcome to bookmark the What's new and Recent photos pages, and check them out from time to time. Or if you prefer the 'investigate an old photo' style of newsletter, you'll find lots of old Hong Kong photos and their stories in my books, available from local bookstores, Amazon UK*, and Amazon US* (*affiliate links).

What's new and updated on the Gwulo website:


1920s View across Happy Valley

Submitted by David on Sun, 06/25/2023 - 12:00
c.1929 Happy Valley, Leighton Hill, and Causeway Bay


Where: That's easy, with the Happy Valley racecourse clear to see above the trees in the foreground. At this time the centre of the racecourse was shared among several sports clubs, including the golf club. Those light-coloured shapes are the bunkers on the golf course.

Bunkers on the golf course at Happy Valley


When: Fortunately in old Hong Kong photos there is usually some building being either built or demolished, that can help us pin down the date the photo was taken. I can see two large construction sites in this photo, so we shouldn't have too much trouble.