1900 Hong Kong question | Gwulo: Old Hong Kong

1900 Hong Kong question

 I have a question or two about life in Hong Kong at the turn of the 20th century.  If I were a wealthy Chinese businessperson living on HK Island, where would I live?  At Midlevel?
  Do you have any pictures or details of how a typical Chinese family would live if they had a great deal of money?  What kind of home would it be?  What would the interior look like?  What sort of things would set them apart from others or the colonials?  What would be considered luxury and available?  What did wealthy Chinese families do? 



Search on Kom Tong Hall and you will see how one wealthy "Chinese" lived.  Ho Kom Tong was Eurasian actually.  His father was western, and his mother was Eurasian. 

Some more names are found in the founding members of the "Chinese Club".  Follow them and come back and tell us what you have found about where and how they lived.

When you say, "wealthy Chinese", look also to Ellen Olson nee  "Ching Ah Fung".  Race and gender and wealth is not as clear as you think.  See Sean Olsen's story

He was also the brother of Robert Ho Tung and the grandfather of Bruce Lee. Bruce's mother, Grace, was one of a multitude of offspring by one of his many wives.

if you read my website you will see that the governor of the colony - can't remember his name at time of writing - made the point that the majorityof the top rich peoplr on the island were Chinese. That's back in the 1880s. Read the Legislative Council reports and you may learn something.

This book from 1908 is also worth a read, as it shows photos of several wealthy Chinese families and their houses. (Thanks to IDJ for introducing the book, and AnneliseC for finding the online copy.)

We'll all be interested to hear what you find out.

He was Chinese, not Eurasian. Both his father and mother were Chinese. He was a half-brother of Ho Tung who was Eurasian.

The Ho Tung family might be surprised to hear that Ho Kom Tong had a Chinese father. (see Royal Asiatic Society 2007 newsletter)

When travelling in New York, Robert Ho Tung used the name 'H.T. Bosman". (see New York Times article).  One of his younger brother chose to use his Western name, Walter Bosman.

In 1866, when Ho Kom Tong was born, Charles Henri Bosman, was listed as a special juror, Merchant, Bosman and Co. and "Englishman" C H M Bosman, a director of the Hong Kong and Whampoa Dock Company;

And then we find this:

Showing the names of all aliens to whom certificates of Naturalisation have been issued since the 8th day of August 1888.  Dated  August 1889

BOSMAN, Charles Henry Maurice       
The Netherlands       
15th November 1888       
8 Redcliffe Square, London.


C.H.M. Bosman died in 1892, age 61


You can find a Family Portrait, with Walter in Western, and the other children in Chinese clothes - at this powerpoint presentation


I hope he doesn't mind me saying this, but is Andrew Tse (Ho Kom Tong's Great-Grandson) the one and same who has posted those great pictures of many of the magnificent old residences (including the Ho and Lo ones) on FLICKR?

Though I am confused about Bosman's nationality - various sources say Dutch or German - can anyone enlighten me?

Nonetheless, the fact is that Ho Kom Tong was a half-brother of Ho Tung. Ho Tung was a full brother of Ho Fook, and their father was Bosman who was Dutch.  Ho Kom Tong's father was Chinese.

Who was Ho Kom Tong's father

My interest is piqued.

Much has been written and said about Bruce Lee's Eurasian background (well documented from his mother's side). Are you saying that it is all wrong?

Please reveal more details.

Bruce Lee's mother was the daughter of Ho Kom Tong and a white woman - some say French, but more probably White Russian.

So who was his father?

Not sure, But I believe that when Bosman finally left HK his "protected woman" became a concubine of the admirer who fathered Ho Kom Tong, and bore him more children.  Incidentally, she was Bosman's protected woman, not his concubine.

Ho Kom Tong was born in 1866.

Bosman was still on the jury lists in 1869, two years after his youngest son, Walter was born (in 1867).  After that, he is not listed from 1870-73 (when I stopped checking)

Walter took Boseman's name.

So if Ho Kom Tong was not Bosman's son, then Bosman did not "protect" Mme. Sze very well, did he?

How well he "protected" her depends on what sort of protection you refer to.

But is this just accepted gossip, or do you have a source?  I see there is a book "何東" (Ho Tung) in Chinese.  Did you get the info there?  


I suggest that   "In the Web" - ISBN 0 19039 0 X by prominent Hong Kong Eurasian Peter Hall is worth a read by anyone interested in the fascinating subject of Hong Kong's Eurasian families.

Incidentally,while Cohen's origins are not entirely clear,   I strongly suspect that the "Morris Cohen" listed near Bosman in the www.missing-ancestors.com  naturalisation list is "Two Gun Cohen" , famed  Jewish migrant adventurer from London's East End who became Sun Yat Sen's ADC and bodyguard amongst many other things.

No, not gossip but fact.  The more enlightened members of the clan are more than happy to confirm. Or you could try Peter Hall's "In the Web" - but you may not believe him either.  Your persistence in questioning the fact prompts me to wonder at the connection. But as I am not prepared to give you my name, I shall not ask for yours.

Gwulo is a friendly history website.  We are all amateurs, we cruise around the web finding things about Hong Kong history that take our fancy.  I recently read the book "Clara Ho Tung: A Hong Kong Lady, Her Family and Her Times", and have enjoyed a tour through Kam Tong Hall.  and so thought I'd try to trace what is known about the Ho Tungs.

The key to making sure that one is posting history and not gossip, is to find a verifiable written source.  Absent that, it is best to make sure that your posts come with a disclaimer that it is something that you have "heard", not something that was in print.  Mind you, you can't trust what has been written down either.  The old joke about journalists not letting the facts interfere with a good story is very true.

One can also say that something is "family lore", but using the word "fact" when dealing with history, is problematic at best.  I tend to think of all History as merely a good story.  That is why it is so fun.

When it comes to whom it is presumed to be the father of a woman's child, without DNA testing, I rather think that one should accept whatever story the woman herself wishes to present. To do otherwise would be ungentlemanly.


Annelisec on 2010-01-23 posted the statement "Ho Kom Tong was Eurasian actually. His father was western, and his mother was Eurasian".

History or gossip? Verifiable written source? Disclaimer? Something you heard? Family lore? Good story? Story the woman herself wished to present?


Guilty as charged !  So you see what the problem is ?  I did not cite a source :) 

I believe I confused the parents of Robert Ho Tung's second wife, Lady Clara with Ho Tung's mother Mme. Sze.  Had I properly quoted my source ... I would not have made the mistake.

Florence Yeo also identifies the maternal European ancestors of Lady Clara. Lady Clara, she says, was a second generation Eurasian, with both parents being Eurasians (her European blood was English and Scottish). Her grandfather was Lane, one of the founders of Lane and Crawford of Hong Kong

- Being Eurasian: memories across racial divides -  By Meiqi Lee

At Gwulo, we are all happy to have the information we post corrected.  The beauty of Gwulo is that those who have better sources are kind enough to take the time to point out errors.



But when I corrected your error in describing HKT as Eurasian with a western father and a Eurasian mother, I got no thanks for it!

I was unable to cite my "better" source as it was a member of the family.

The point is not academic. HKT's involvement with the Chiu Yuen Cemetery, and his fencing off of a part of it for his own descendants (Ho Chong) needs to be questioned seriously, particularly as he himself was not Eurasian. 

Koopmanschap & Bosman Co. were human trafficers.  The euphemism was "the coolie trade".  Read more at:
American Mediterranean: Southern slaveholders in the age of emancipation By Matthew Pratt Guterl

If these posts are really about Chiu Yuen Cemetery, perhaps they would best be at continued at

The China Mail, June 18, 1938

Captain Bosman, the bearer of a name once known and honoured in Hong Kong made his first return after an absence of 51 years, during which he had made for himself an honourable career as an engineer in South Africa, first in the service of the Government and afterward in the coal-mining industry.

After consulting Mr. Ho Kom-tong, he decided to endow what he wished to call "Peace Scholarships" to be held at the University of Hong Kong.


Loved this thread, very very interesting.  I'm aquainted with Peter Hall (having communicated on a number of things with him), I shall email him and ask him to take a look at this thread and see if he can add anything to it for you.  I am sure he will find it very interesting.


If I were a wealthy Chinese businessperson living on HK Island, where would I live?  At Midlevel?

Transcribed from

1908 - Twentieth century impressions of Hong-kong, Shanghai, and other Treaty Ports of China. Their history, people, commerce, industries, and resources;

Mr. Lau Chu Pak - Ardmore, 1 Babington Path
Mr. Ho Kom Tong (or Mr. Ho Tai Sang as he is often called)  , 7 Lower Castle Road (photos)
Mr. [Robert] Ho Tung (or as he is sometimes known Mr. Ho Hai Shang), "Idlewild" (photos)
Mr. Chau Siu Ki
Mr. Choa Leep Chee, "Burnside", (photos)
Mr. Ho Fook, 10 Caine Road (photos)
Mr. Lo Cheung Shiu
Mr. Yung Hin Pong
Mr. Tseung Sz Kai
Mr. Tong Lai Chuen, 67 & 69 Wyndham Street
Mr. Wong Kam Fuk
Mr. S. W. Tso (Mr Tso Seen Wan)
Mr. Otto Kong Sing
Dr.  Wan Tun (Tun with an umlaut) Mo
Dr. Kwan Sum Yin, surgery at 18A Stanley Street
Dr. Ho Ko Tsun
Dr. Ho Nai Hop (alias Ho Lokkum)
Dr. Coxion To
Mr. She Posham
Mr. Kung Kwant-To (also known as Mr. Kung Sui Tong)
Mr. Lau PUn Chin
Mr. Ho Wing Tsun
Mr. Chau Ngan Ting
Mr. Iu Ku Un
Mr. Ng Hon Tsz
Mr. Mok Tso Chun
Mr. Wong chew Tong
Mr. Chun Tong (also known as Mr. Chun Chik Yu)
Mr. Ip shun Kam
Mr. Chow Hing Ki
Mr. Ching King sin
the brothers Li - sons of Mr. Li Sing
Mr. Li Po Lung (sometimes known as Li Wai tong), Medway House, Kennedy Raod
Mr. Li Po Yung (known also as Li Tsz Ming), Richmond House, Robinson Raod
Mr. Li Po Chun, (or Li Tsz hi), Caine Raod
Mr. Ng Li Hing (photos)
Mr. Cheung Tseung Che, 53 Caine Road, formerly occupied by Sr Paul Chater
Mr. Goh Li Hing (also known in Hongkong as Mr. Ng Li Hing), caine Road
Mr. Tsang King
Mr. Sin Tak Fam
Mr. Wong Lai-Sang


You would not be very far wrong in saying they lived in Midlevels. You may be interested to know that the following in your list were Eurasians (e&oe):

Ho Tung, Ho Fook, Lo Cheung Shiu, Wong Kam Fuk, She Posham, Sin Tak Fan and Wong Lai Sang.

I have heard that Chinese were forbidden to live in certain parts of midlevel and/or the Peak during and prior to 1900s.  Does anyone know where were the restricted zones or was this just rumor/myth?  If it was true, then what would happen to the mixed families? 

Due to overcrowding, poor hygiene and lack of proper sanitation, infectious diseases such as bubonic plague was rampant in Hong kong at the end of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century.

At the time, the Government decided on the basis of preventing overcrowding and deterring the speculative builder to reserve the Hill District above the 700 ft contour (i.e. above the City of Victoria limits) to residents of the Colony whose lives 'in the tropics present the disadvantage of an unnatural environment." In Government parlance, the Chinese were restricted to making their homes below the 700 ft contour level.

In 1904 the Chinese population had not taken to living on the Peak even with the availability of the Peak Tramway.

The Bill passed in 1904 was entitled an Ordinance for the Reservation of a Residential Area in the Hill District. There was a clause in the Ordinance which allowed for the Governor in Council to exempt any Chinese from the operation of the Ordinance.

We see later that Sir Robert Ho Tung was given special dispensation to build his home on the Peak.

The demarcation of the City of Victoria limits as seen in:


was important in determining the extent of the Hill District Reservation.


Bruce Lee's mother, Grace Ho Oi-yu (b.1907 d.1996) was an Eurasian and an adopted daughter of Ho Kom-tong and a women by the name of Cheung King-sin (b. 1866 d. 1960). Cheung was an Eurasian, cousin of Clara Ho Tung. She lived in Shanghai most of her life.

Grace spent part of her childhood in Hong Kong, living at the Ho Tung Garden in the Peak under the care of Clara Ho Tung. Grace later married Lee Hoi-chuen (b. 1902 d. 1965)

In 1869 C.H.M. Bosman is shown as the Dutch Consul, and running Bosman & Co. - Marine Insurance.


Liz - "In the Web" is not searchable on the Web.  At least not in Google Books.  They only have an overview of the book itself, and I can't find a copy to buy online.  I went to the Hong Kong public library to read it, and it is a wealth of informatin.  Printed in 1992, before all these fancy family-tree programs were available, there must be a dozen or more sets of family trees in the book.  Could you find out if Peter Hall would mind sending a copy to Google so they could scan and upload it ?

"Protected" woman

A woman acquired by, and living with a foreigner

The foreigner extended his "protection" to a native mistress.  That "protected woman" extended his name as "protector" over the inmates of her secret brothel.  ...  It was sufficient for the "protected" woman to say, when the officer of the law rapped at her door, "This is not a brothel, but the private family residence of Mr. So-and-So," naming some foreigner ... and the officer's search would proceed no further.

Heathen Slaves And Christian Rulers By Elizabeth Andrew and Katharine Bushnell

The position of a protected woman enabled her, under favourable circumstances, to achieve personal and financial independence.  Her primary relationship was to a single male, her protector.  This freed her from the domination of a mother-in-law, a primary wife, or males in the Chinese patriarchal family...  Independence, however, could become absolute with his death or absence.

Women and Chinese patriarchy: submission, servitude, and escape
By Maria Jaschok, Suzanne Miers

AET says Grace Ho Oi-yu was "an adopted daughter of Ho Kam Tong and a women (sic) by the name of Cheung King-sin".  He also says Cheung was "a cousin of Clara Ho Tung". This raises more questions than it answers.

Was Cheung married to Ho Kam Tong, and first wife or concubine? If not, why would Ho Kam Tong join her in adopting a daughter?

Ho Kam Tong had many wives, concubines and others, and more than enough children by them. Why would he want to adopt someone else's child? And why a girl?

How was Cheung a cousin of Clara Ho Tung? Clara was a cousin of Lady Margaret. So was Cheung also related to Lady Margaret, and if so, how?

Doesn't ring true.

Bruce Lee' s mother Grace had a relationship with Ho Kom-tong. She was not a wife nor a concubine. She was simply "protected" by Ho Kom-tong. Information and photos provided by Wong Po-yuen, son of Ho Pak-yung, sister of Grace. Wong is currently living in China. AET

Sorry, this doesn't make sense. The post previously said that Grace was adopted by Ho Kam Tong and a woman named Cheung. Now we are told Ho Kam Tong had a relationship with  Grace.  Gets more complicated all the time.

Grace's mother Cheung King-sin had a relation with Ho Kom-tong. With Ho, Cheung had two daughters, Ho Pak-yung and Ho Pak-ngan. Cheung while living at the Ho Tung household in Shanghai, had adopted a son Peter and a daughter Grace. Both Peter and Grace were Eurasians. I meant Cheung rather than Grace in earlier message AET

Thank you for sharing this fasinating information about Bruce family!

So what AET is now telling us is that Grace (mother of Bruce Lee) was adopted by Cheung King-sin, not by Ho Kam Tong.  What this all amounts to is that the popular belief that Bruce Lee was related by blood to Ho Kam Tong and his half brother Ho Tung is totally incorrect. 

Bruce Li family history is rich and varied.  Thank you for sharing.

Bruce Li's mother Grace was "adoprted" according to one of the cousin of Bruce Li. It's difficult to confirm from other sources as most poepole who know the background are no longer around. I have seen phtos of Grace (Oi-yu) and the two sisters Pak-ngan and Pak-yung. They don't look alike. Grace was more Eurasian looking. Grace lived with Clara Ho Tung on the Peak, together with sister Pak-yung while in Hong Kong. She was certainly being treated as part of th family. AET

My apology again. It was Pak-ngan who stayed in Hong Kong. Pak-yung spent most of her time in China.

Hi Annelisec, sorry for delay in replying school holidays etc. and keeping child entertained are currently top of the list! 

Anyway, the book In The Web is VERY good and, as you say, full of a wealth of information.  Peter hand draws his family trees.  I will ask Peter your question about sending a copy to Google, but suspect he will not as he is currently updating his book with newer information in preparation for another print run.  I have helped him with the Chater/Jordan/Laing family tree which will be very much more detailed than already there.  I know for a fact that the first edition only had 1500 on the print run, I shall see how many he plans on doing this time.  I was very lucky, I purchased my copy off ebay.  Good old ebay!

But rest assured, Peter is working very hard and a second edition is in the pipeline.

best wishes



I am a direct descendant of Pak-ngan you've seen pictures??

Is it possible to get copies of these? I stumbled across this searching for other genealogy stuff. Ironically I was just discussing the Bruce Li connection with other family members!


I have photos of Pak-ngan and Pak-yung. 



For Central and western districts ,  Caine Road and Bonham road were the lowest restricted area and they represented the boundary of wealthy westerners ?

The law was about the style of house (European larger with more windows or Chinese, dark and airless), not the occupants.     As today, larger houses were constantly being redeveloped into smaller and smaller units.  Only the very wealthy owned their own houses.  Most Europeans rented because their "real" home was not in Hong Kong.  

In 1941, Bruce Lee's mother, Grace Ho Oi-yu (b.1907 d.1996) states to the US Government that her mother was English, did not have "one drop" of Chinese blood and that she died 7 years earlier (c. 1934).  She also states that her father was Chinese.

That means that Grace eloped about 3 years before her natural mother died.

If the household in Shanghai was run along the same lines as the one in Hong Kong, then perhaps Grace, (and Peter) were Ho Kom Tong's children by an Englishwoman, and that CHEUNG King-sin "adopted" them while their mother was still living.

This makes Grace the natural daughter of Ho Kom Tong.   Which better explains why he was angry that she eloped with Lee. 


According to the book 香港大老何東, Ho Kom Tong's father was a Chinese whose family name is Ho, who probably had an on and off relationship with Mdm Sze while "protected" by  Bosman . That explained the more Chinese look of Ho Kom Tong compared to his two half-brothers, Ho Tung and Ho Fook.