Talk #5: Hong Kong people

Submitted by David on Tue, 05/28/2019 - 19:00

31st May update: The RAS have let me know they have full house for tomorrow's talk, so booking for this is now closed.

I’m putting the finishing touches to a new talk I’ll give this Saturday, June 1st. It’ll be great to see you there if you can join us. Please click here for details & booking.


The talk is based around old photos that show people in Hong Kong. I’ve gone through my collection, scanning copies of all the photos with a “people” theme. To help keep the numbers manageable I’ve only chosen photos taken in or before the 1940s. The collage above shows 50 of them, but there are about 160 in all.

Next followed several weeks spent juggling the photos, looking for the stories that link them together. Some are obvious choices, e.g. a series of street life scenes that includes my favourite in this talk, a traveling cobbler:

1920s Wandering Shoemaker

Other times the story isn’t obvious at first, but as I look at the photos they often raise questions that need to be answered. So we’ll let the photos lead us off into other topics too, e.g. looking at the evolution of rickshaws over the years …


… or how changes in photographic techniques mean we get to see these men well over 100 years after they were in Hong Kong.

Cabinet cards

The people shown above remain anonymous, but we'll also look in to several photo albums, which have a lot more information available. Their captions put names to faces, which lets us research their stories in greater detail. So when we see photos of this newly-married couple at their wedding reception, we’ll have an idea why the bride and her mother have sad faces.

Leaving St John's after wedding

Another album shows a large construction project underway. Where it was and what they’re building becomes clear when we know the name of the wealthy Chinese gentleman shown laying the stone in this photo. A street on the site is still named after him today.

Laying foundation stone

Seeing all these different people also got me wondering about their connection to Hong Kong. The usual explanation is that people came to Hong Kong to work and make money, then returned to where they came from to set up a home. Is that true? How many of them considered Hong Kong their home?

I’ve been looking through the census figures to see what they show about changing attitudes. As an example, if a more equal balance of adult women to men suggests a more family-friendly environment, we can look at how that balance changed over the years.

1861-1940 Adults in Hong Kong



There are lots more photos & charts to show and stories to tell, but I hope this gives you a taste for what to expect. Here’s the link to the details and booking again, and fingers crossed I’ll see you on Saturday.



PS I thought the collage at the top of the page could make a good "old Hong Kong" wallpaper for an iPad / PC / etc. If you’d like a copy, you can download it here.


Thanks to everyone who came along to the talk yesterday. The photo below shows a few empty seats, but they were filled shortly after the talk started, and we had a full house.

Audience for Talk #5

Thanks also to the RAS for hosting the event, and Connie, Helen (shown giving the introduction), and Ivy for organising it. Check out their calendar for many more events introducing different aspects of Hong Kong's history:

Hi David,

Thank you too for the talk, we enjoyed it immensely.

I'm off to buy a pipe just so that I can show it off in all future photos like the quarry workers photo.