Old Hong Kong newspapers

Submitted by David on Tue, 02/02/2010 - 16:00

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.


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.


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.



Printed copy


The China Mail


1967, 1974


The Daily Advertiser




The Friend of China and Hong Kong Gazette




The Hong Kong Daily Press




The Hong Kong Mercury and Shipping Gazette




The Hong Kong News




The Hong Kong Observer




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




Hong Kong Sunday Herald




The Hong Kong Telegraph




The Hong Kong Times : Daily Advertiser, and Shipping Gazette




The Hong Kong Weekly Press




Overland China mail




South China Morning Post


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


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.


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:



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


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.   


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.


Has anyone managed to get online access for the "Overland China Mail" newspaper?

I have searched the links above and in Google, but that newspaper is ually only available in libraries as either hardcopies or microfilms I suppose.

I'm located in the UK;;it didn't seem like the British LIbrary holds the whole colelction (only selected entries), or maybe I'm not searching correctly.

Any advice appreciated - thank you in advance.

Best wishes, Vanessa

I've never had a problem searching the old newspapers for a specific date before, but can't get images of the actual pages at the moment. The titles of the newspapers come up and I can access the headlines of individual newspapers, but not the images of the pages and the text. Is there some new app that I need to download or should I just wait till the MMIS site returns to normal?

Thanks for the tip, David. I've just spent about two hours going backwards and forwards between Adobe Help and the MMIS site. I use Firefox or Safari, not Chrome, but they all seem to want to block Adobe Flash Player. I ought to be getting a prompt with a message saying "Allow" or "Don't Allow" Adobe, but the prompt is not coming up on the MMIS site. I had hoped to take up moddsey's kind reference to the China Mail, 6 April 1922, p. 9, but I'm not able to bring up an image of any newspaper pages. If I click on the "Full Screen" icon it just comes up blank. I have previously found the facility to search the newspapers very useful and it will be very frustrating if it now proves impossible.

I wrote to the LCSD to ask what their plans are. They replied:

As  Adobe  Flash  Player will be end of support by the end of 2020, we have already  planned  to  change  the  use of Flash viewers to the use of HTML5 viewers in MMIS. We are now working with the MMIS maintenance contractor to develop  and  implement  the change. It is anticipated that the replacement will be completed by next year.

Thanks for following up on this, David. My ageing Mac only has a smidgeon of memory left and I'm nervous of uploading anything major. I will though look into what it might still support. Presumably you have no problems accessing the newspapers with Chrome and Flash at the moment?

I hope that I'm not jumping the gun on this - but I've just been looking up something on MMIS - thinking only that I'd get a headline, since I haven't got chrome on this macbook and safari's been blocking flash for some weeks now.  But maybe the upgrade David was told about has happened - as I'm able to get the whole pages as before.  Phew!


As far as I can tell they've removed the old Flash viewer, and switched to the Javascript OpenSeaDragon viewer instead, so you shouldn't have to make any changes. I have had a couple of times where it was very slow to load, so you may just need to try again. If it still doesn't work, I recommend you contact the library to see if they have any tips, or if there is anything they need to change at their side. You can reach them via https://mmis.hkpl.gov.hk/web/guest/contact-us and https://www.1823.gov.hk/en/form/ask

Yes, I know that sometimes my 'enable javascript' gets turned off - so this might be Jill's problem.  You can easily re-enable it if necessary:


  1. Select Safari from the Apple/System bar at the top of the screen.
  2. From the drop-down menu, select Preferences.
  3. Select the Security icon/tab at the top of the window.
  4. Check the Enable JavaScript checkbox under the Web content category.
  5. Close the dialog box to save your changes.
  6. Finally, refresh your browser.

Its really super simple and at least Jill would be able to check whether it was enabled 


Thank you, David and Patricia for your suggestions. I have followed them all but am currently still having no success. It may be that my Mac is too old to support the relevant updates. In the meantime, I've sent an email to enquiries@lcsd.gov.hk    I see from the mmis website that they are still having maintenance issues.

good luck with this, Jill, but no way is your mac too old - mine's a year older and running this fine.  Genius bar to sort out a system upgrade, I reckon!


I have succeeded in accessing the old newspaper images with Firefox, just in case anyone else has been struggling with Safari. I had tried Firefox before, but can't have given the image enough time to download.

Proquest offer access to the digital archive of the South China Morning Post (SCMP) as part of their Historical Newspapers collection. (See their 2014 announcement.)

This is a commercial service, that libraries and academic institutions subscribe to.

It doesn't go back as far as several other newspapers in the MMIS collection, as the SCMP was only founded in 1903. But Proquest's search index is much better than the search index provided by MMIS, making it much easier to find the subjects you are looking for. So if it covers the years you are interested in it is a good place to start.

Here in Hong Kong, it can be accessed via terminals at several of the local public libraries (see list).

If you're overseas, check if it is available at your local public library.