Old Hong Kong newspapers

The basics.

Click here for answers to the two most common questions, or scroll down for more information.

The full story.

Yesterday's news is today's history, so these are a great resource for finding out about old Hong Kong. You can search for a mention of a specific place / person / event, or you can just browse through and see what turns up – I always like looking at the old advertisements too, eg for the tobacco that 'soothes your throat'!.

Here's a collection of the tricks I use:

  • Newspaper collections in Hong Kong
  • Searching online
  • Searching in person
  • Viewing the results
  • Sharing your findings
  • HK newspapers in overseas collections
  • HK news in other newspapers

I look forward to hearing yours.


Newspaper collections in Hong Kong

Both the HK Public Records Office (HKPRO) and the Hong Kong Public Library (HKPL) hold copies of old newspapers.

HKPRO:

Perhaps the most valuable and certainly the most frequently used library reference source is the newspaper collection, consisting of 15 local English-language newspapers. Copies of one of Hong Kong’s first newspapers, the Friend of China, are held as well as runs of the China Mail, Hong Kong Daily Press, Hong Kong Telegraph, Hong Kong Weekly Press, Hong Kong Register, Hong Kong Observer, Hong Kong News (the newspaper published by the Japanese during the occupation), and the South China Morning Post. With the exception of a few issues for the period leading up to the fall of Hong Kong in December 1941, holdings of the latter newspaper are complete from 1903 to 1977.

The library also keeps seven Chinese-language local newspapers: the Hsun Huan Jih Pao, the Yau Sho Wai Po, the Kung Shang Jih Pao, the Wah Kiu Yat Po, the Wah Kiu Man Po, the Hwa Shiang Pao, the Hwa Shiang Pao (evening edition).

Several specialised press cuttings files are held, one example being selected items relating to public works for the period 1945 to 1974.

From the HKPRO Fact Sheet.

HKPL:

Here's a list of the English-language newspapers in their collection, and the years they have available for each of the three different formats.

Name

Microfilm

Printed copy

Online

The China Mail

1866-1961

1967, 1974

1866-1961

The Daily Advertiser

1871-1873

 

 

The Friend of China and Hong Kong Gazette

1842-1859

 

 

The Hong Kong Daily Press

1870-1941

 

1864-1941

The Hong Kong Mercury and Shipping Gazette

1866

 

 

The Hong Kong News

1941-45

 

 

The Hong Kong Observer

1928

 

 

Hongkong Standard (aka 'The Standard', and 'Hong Kong iMail')

1954-present

2004-present

 

Hong Kong Sunday Herald

1929-41

 

1929-1950

The Hong Kong Telegraph

1881-1951

 

1881-1951

The Hong Kong Times : Daily Advertiser, and Shipping Gazette

1873-1876

 

 

The Hong Kong Weekly Press

1895-1909

 

1895-1909

Overland China mail

1932-1941

 

 

South China Morning Post

1904-present

1963-75, 78-80, 2005 -present

 

You can see the full list here, which also describes their collection of old Chinese-language newspapers.


Searching Online

HKPRO:

I've never managed to get their online newspapers search to return any results at all. I may be making some simple mistake, so if you have it working, please leave a comment below.

HKPL:

Their online Multimedia Information Service (MMIS) is the tool I use most. MMIS can search in the text of old newspapers, and returns scanned images of matching pages so you can read them online. But... it has several limitations you need to be aware of:

  • I've only been able to make search work from an Internet Explorer web browser, not from other browsers such as FireFox
  • If you visit their website and can't see any search form, the service may be shut for one of its (many) housekeeping times. Opening hours (all Hong Kong local time) are:
     - Tuesday: 8:00a.m. - 9:00p.m.
     - Wednesday: 1:00p.m. - 2:00a.m. the next day
     - Thurs to Mon (& public holidays): 8:00a.m. - 2:00a.m. the next day
  • Not all newspapers are included in the search (SCMP is the major exception). Check the table in the previous section to see which newspapers are accessible online via the MMIS.
  • The search misses large sections of newspapers. For older issues it seems to only search through text in headings (I expect the text in the body of articles was too small for OCR to work reliably).

Still, it often returns useful results, and is well worth trying out. You've got several approaches to searching:

  • By keyword: eg, every reference to 'kai tak'. This is where I usually start.
  • By date: You have can choose to see all newspapers published in a given year, month, or day. This can be a better approach if you're searching for information about a certain event, and you know the rough date. It's slower, but you can sometimes find information that the keyword search missed.
  • By keyword and date: A refinement of the first option, useful if the first search returns too many results. Eg if a search for 'kai tak' returns too many results, you may repeat the search, splitting it into several searches by decade.

The first two use the Basic Search page, while the last one uses the Advanced Search page. The HKPL has a page describing how to use them to search their newspaper collection.


Searching in person

If you want to search one of the newspapers that isn't accessible via MMIS (or if you don't like staring at a computer screen), you'll need to visit the HKPL or HKPRO in person. You can read copies of the old newspapers using their microfilm (they also call them 'microform') readers.


Viewing the results

If you took the 'search in person' option, the staff at the HKPRO or HKPL will show you how to use their microfilm readers to view the newspapers.

If you've searched online, here's a way to make reading the papers on your PC a lot easier:

The trick is to use a viewer that lets you see each page in the browser, instead of having to download each one as a file first. The viewer I'm using is called Alternatiff. It is available as a free download. (I found it via this page, which lists some alternatives if you don't like Alternatiff).


Sharing your findings

If you find something good in the newspapers, please let us know about it. I recommend your reference includes:

  • The name of the newspaper
  • The date it was published
  • The page the article appeared on

That's enough to let anyone else quickly find the original article.


HK newspapers in overseas collections

I've only heard of this one collection so far, from Reader C:

Microfilms of some newspapers of the 1930s and 1940s are available at the University of Toronto library--more specifically, the Richard Charles Lee Canada-Hong Kong Library.

Please leave a comment if you know of any others.


HK news in other newspapers

If you're researching a topic that was considered international news, it can also be worth searching in the international newspapers.

Some are in specific, single-newspaper collections. Eg the fall of Hong Kong in 1941 is covered in issues of The Winnipeg Tribune from that period.

Then there's also the Google News Archive, introducted to us by reader 80skid:

Google has added a very cool function - allowing you to search scanned newspapers over the past century or so. the best feature is the timeline, showing the frequency of stories about the search terms, plus you can narrow it down to free archives. The number of newspapers seems limited at the moment - but check this for example - the Sydney Morning Herald on the fall of Hong Kong:

http://news.google.co.uk/newspapers?id=e2AQAAAAIBAJ&sjid=_JQDAAAAIBAJ&pg=7261,6902738&dq=hong+kong+war+japan&hl=en

 


What can you add to the list? Are there other collections we should know about, or tricks you've found for better searching & viewing?

Regards, David

Comments

I've discovered this new link over the weekend for Singapore papers/Straits Times.  Until recently you could only access small thumbnails of news, but now you can see the whole thing, although [unlike the HK newspapers] you cannot copy or download the pages.

http://newspapers.nl.sg/Default.aspx

hope its useful.

Liz

Thanks Liz, that should be useful. The site has a good user-interface too.

David,  It would appear that the On Line service for Old HK Newspapers has now ceased, unless I have been looking in the wrong site.

I also did a Google search and got the same answer.

rgds - michael

Michael,

I just tried the Library's Advanced Search and it's working ok here.

Any chance you're hitting one of the problems listed above under "But... it has several limitations you need to be aware of:" ?

Regards, David

 David,

  Many thanks. Tried your link and it works.

  Michael

The British Library has a substantial collection of old HK newspapers: many originals as well as microfilm.

 

The online search system may be a bit hit or miss, but it's better than nothing.

However, it's not much help if you are not in Hong Kong, because the images of the newspapers are poor. I have a reasonably large monitor (16 in by 10 in) on my desktop PC, but - even in 'full screen' view - only the headlines are legible, and I cannot see any way to enlarge the image further. I've tried printing a page, and clipping a news item, but neither method produces a legible image.

Extracting the data to produce a handlist for searching the microfilm is tedious, because it is all in html frames, and needs to be converted and edited to cut out the 80% of the data that is repetitive and quite unnecessary . You also have to go to each issue to identify the particular page that has been indexed.

Whoever initiated this service should be congratulated for starting it, but their choice of technology was poor (or they could only use whatever was available at the time), and now it really needs to be modernised.

Thanks for the mention of the British Library. I hadn't thought of them. We have several readers around the London area who'd find that interesting. Are they easily accessible to the public, or are there any restrictions?

You write that you're having trouble viewing the newspapers online. The detail in the image that the HK Public Library's system sends out is good enough to read. Here's a sample of one of their worst scans, which is still readable:

1st R.C. Cathedral sold

Most are clearer than that.

The trick is to find a viewer that will let you zoom in on the section of the page you are interested in. I use a viewer called 'Alternatiff'. If you scroll up the page to the "Viewing the results" section above, you can see a video showing it in use, and some links for where to download it.

Regards, David

Anyone can get a Reader Pass for the Library.  It's free, and they are prepared the first time you visit.  You'll need to take some ID.  The requirements, opening hours etc are all on the BL web site. 

To make the library look busy, it lets anyone in, and is often full of students who seems to be using the free wifi more that the library's collections, so it's best to get there soon after it opens in the morning, or go in the evening. 

 

I'm not sure about access to the newspapers since they closed the old Newspaper Library at Colindale, and moved the collection.  Again, it's best to check the web site.

 

Thanks for the hint about the viewer.  I'll give that a try.  It's a pity that they don't explain that on the HK PL web site; soimeone should tell them.  I would still have had to come to HK to do some of my research (and I'm on my way to a business visit to Shanghai anyway), but I could have saved a few days' hotel bills.   

Hi.

My first post. I'm Debra and I am looking for Hong Kong Hyndmans in the past.

I have used Newspaper Archive at http://newspaperarchive.com/ and I found them pretty good. There are, for rexample, Old Chinese Newspapers at the Australian National Library - papers are not just archived in their country of origin and they have literally thousands of papers listed and you can search by region. 

The only thing is you have to subscribe to get the maximum out of it, but it only costs $71.88 probably USD per year.