Where to find Hong Kong's history

Submitted by David on Thu, 11/01/2007 - 09:00

Here are some ideas of where to look if you're interested in Hong Kong's history.

Geoffrey's photos got me thinking about this. He sent in several old family photos, and asked for help finding out where they were taken. I've been surprised at the very different ways people use to find out the information - old photos, maps, newspapers, specialist knowledge (eg cinema histories), web-searches, personal memories, etc. I've also enjoyed us working together, sharing snippets of information that build up until we can reach a clear answer (or at least an educated guess!). So hopefully the easier it is to dig into Hong Kong's history, the more people will take a look, and the more we'll find.

Old Maps of Hong Kong: see separate article...

Old photos of Hong Kong: see separate article...

Google & Wikipedia

Often the first place to start is with a search on Google. Many of those searches will take you to relevant pages on Wikipedia.

If you're using Google to research a topic, it's worth opening up a new document (notepad or wordpad are fine) where you can keep a list of the searches you've made, and the results for each. When I don't do this, I either can't find a document that I read earlier, or waste time running the same search twice (or more!) at different times! 

Old Hong Kong newspapers: see separate article...

Government records

Hong Kong University provides an excellent resource with their HKGRO:

Hong Kong Government Reports Online (HKGRO) is a full-text image database providing online access to pre-World War II issues of four major government publications, namely, Administrative Report, Hong Kong Sessional Papers, Hong Kong Hansard and Hong Kong Government Gazette. It contains a wide range of information, such as official notifications, proceedings of the Legislative Council, statistics, and reports of government departments and special committees, which are essential to students and scholars in conducting research on Hong Kong.

It's good for searching, but also worth the occasional browse. Most visits will turn up some interesting piece of information. As an example, the first result of a search on 'census' is the 'CENSUS OF HONGKONG 31ST DECEMBER, 1853.' It showed the total Hong Kong population stood at 39,017, with just 476 'Europeans and Americans'.


If you have a question about Hong Kong during the Second World War, Tony Banham is the man who knows the answer. His website is worth a regular visit if you're interested in that part of Hong Kong's history. He keeps it updated with the latest news and photos he receives each month.

For Hong Kong's cinemas, Raymond Lo has obviously done a lot of research. He has added historical notes for many of Hong Kong's cinemas at the Cinema Treasures website.

General historical articles

To take a break from researching, it's good to read some finished articles about Hong Kong's history.

The 'Walk the talk' blog has a lot of interesting stories. There haven't been any new posts since last December, but the old posts are still all there, and make good reading.

The journal of the Royal Asiatic Society is another source of things you never knew about Hong Kong's history. Many editions (I'm not sure the exact range) are available online at the Hong Kong University's 'Hong Kong Journals Online' site. Or if you become a member you'll receive the new journals as they are printed.



The local public libraries hold copies of all the popular books about Hong Kong's history.

If I'm in Tsim Sha Tsui and have some free time, I like to visit the reference library at the Hong Kong Heritage Discovery Centre. It's usually empty, and they have a good selection of local history books.


If you've already gathered information on some part of Hong Kong's history, why not put it up on the web? Then anyone searching for information can benefit from the work you've done, and hopefully contribute some extra information to you too. You're welcome to post information up in our forum, or if you'd like your 'own' site it's easier than ever to sign up at a free blogging site and start posting information.

Feel free to ask questions on our forum, too. Then make a note to check back for replies in a couple of days, a couple of months, and even a year later. You never know when someone will see your question as part of a web search, and be able to add some information about it.

Oh, and keep your eyes open as you wander around town. Many of my own questions have come from seeing an unusual building, or a tunnel entrance, and wondering what it is.

What else is out there that I'm missing? I see that Hong Kong University has a whole list of resources, where I've only been using two. So that's worth a closer look. Then of course there must be plenty of Chinese-language resources that I know nothing about.

What would you recommend?

Regards, David


I've often found good information in their digital collection. Their other special collections look interesting too, but I'd assumed you needed to be studying there to access them. Then last week at HK Central Library I saw a small note advertising a Temporary Visitor pass to the university library. The details listed are:


  1. Applicant should be a registered borrower of the HK Public Libraries
  2. Applicant should provide proof of research needs
  3. The requested research materials are not available at the HK Public Libraries

Where to apply

  1. Central Reference Library (8/F & 9/F, HK Central Library)


  1. 2921-0222

Has anyone tried tried the HKU libraries, and/or this temporary pass?

I wrote to the library's helpdesk for help with this - it's been something I wanted to do for a long time. Here's their answer:

  1. Choose "Old HK Newspaper" from Basic Search
  2. Input the publishing time in the format of yyyy-mm-dd in the search box, for example, input "1940-01-01" for 1 Jan 1940; "1940-01" for all of Jan 1940
  3. Click on the "Keyword" button
  4. Choose "Title" as the searching target
  5. Click on the "Search" button

Easy when you know how!

Reader 80skid points out these are another good source of information:

Here's the Heritage assessment for Western MTR line - fairly comprehensive and detailed survey of Old Things


It's a great read if you're interested in the area along Hong Kong Island's North shore, West of Sheung Wan. It will be worth looking out for other Heritage Assessment documents for other areas.

The police force's newspaper 'OffBeat' ran a 'Now & then' column that talks about the history of the police in Hong Kong. You can read the newspaper online, and the column is in issues #769 to #784 (thanks to moddsey for the link).

There's also the Police Museum. It is open to the public, but I'm sorry to say I have yet to visit.

In my younger days when I had the motor, the Police Museum up in Coombe Road was a must for visitiors to Hong Kong. I used to drive the family up there for a look see and then descend onto the Park (Half Peak) below for a nice outing.  It was from here that my interest in the history of  Hong Kong started!

the museum's definitely worth a visit though it's a little antiquated. There's also an interesting store room just near it by the park which is open to the air and filled with rusting traffic police pagodas and cannon.

Presumably the museum will move to the central police station site once that's (started and) finished, so I guess they're just treading water for now

Gweipo sends us a link to the Hong Kong discussion area on the rootsweb site. Some of the posts there give good hints on tracking down the movements of ancestors who spent time in Hong Kong. They include searching the passenger lists that were printed in newspapers when ships arrived, and checking headstones in Hong Kong's cemeteries.

Are there any other tools you've found useful?

One for your diary - I just received this notice from the RAS:

5 June - Talk by Mr. Tony Banham at City Hall at 6:30 PM. The talk is free and open to the public, with no booking required.

It doesn't state the topic, but I guess it will be about his latest book, 'We shall suffer there'. Regardless, I'm sure it will be an interesting talk. I enjoy his website & books but have never seen him in person, so I'm looking forward to it.

Sometimes the Google satellite views are a good way to check an area before you visit it, trying to match what's on a map with the countryside today. I'm not sure when they made the change, but this week I noticed they now let you zoom in closer than before. Here are a couple of examples.

First the remains of the Pottinger Battery, down the hill from Gough Battery on the slope of Devil's Peak.

[gmap zoom=19 |center=22.287381484755834,114.24256950616837 |width=510px |height=350px |control=Small |type=Satellite]

Second, the ground near Shing Mun Redoubt. Previously I remember struggling to find this electricity pylon in Google Maps, but here it is clear to see in the center-left of the image. On the right you can see a white dot - it is one of those balls they hang on the power lines!

[gmap zoom=19 |center=22.376991447987034,114.14560765028 |width=510px |height=350px |control=Small |type=Satellite]

If you want to build your own satellite views to include in your text, click the "Build a GMap macro" link in the left sidebar (only visible to logged-in users).

I think the change is recent because they have only just updated the views of the Central reclamation in the past couple of months. I suspect this improved resolution was done at the same time.

Unfortunately they only seem to have updated part of HK - at least the satellite images over Tai Po are still pre-2005 and lack the higher resolution seen elsewhere.

There are several in the next few months that look interesting:

  • Life during the Japanese Occupation Period of Hong Kong
  • Visiting Local Military Relics: Stanley Military Cemetery (FV090926)
  • The Cost of War: Discovering Prisoners-of-War Camp

They are also showing two short films once a week: "History of Hong Kong Land: Lines of Defence" and "Hong Kong History Series: The Fall of Hong Kong in World War II".

All the above are presented in Cantonese. Details here.

Yes, I think they are worth signing up for quickly if there is something you are interested in. Currently I find out about these events from the paper newsletter they mail me each quarter. I've just signed up for the LCSD e-mail newsletter, to see if that gives us an earlier notification.

The subscription page is here. I chose the option to receive a customised newsletter, and ticked all the boxes in the museum section.

besides normal google search you can also look under the google books project (http://books.google.com/) and search books instead of the usual search.  I put a search in for our building name and came across numerous fiction and non fiction books that give the building a mention.  Most you can then see an extract of the page and find out if it's worth reading further.

RTHK are a good source

eg on rthk3 Anne Marie Evans has her hk heritage prog

and Sarah Passmore has Paul Harrison from Walk the Talk -Mobile Adventures (mentioned above) usually on her Weds prog usually post 2pm, the progs are archived on the web

The search feature on the HKGRO site isn't always very accurate. Not surprising, given the age of many of the documents.

However, those documents have also been indexed manually. If you know what you're looking for, you can find a lot of useful information from that index.

eg we've recently been looking for information about a 'Chardhaven Hotel' on Nathan Road in the late 1930s. If I use the search page to look for chardhaven, it doesn't return any results.

But I remembered that the licensing board met around October / November each year, and as hotels often have a bar we might find something relevant in their records.

So instead of using the search page, I went to the HKGRO's 'Table of Contents', and looked at the right-hand column, the Government Gazette.

First I tried the '1939' page, and used the web browser's search to look forany entries with  licens in the text. It didn't return anything relevant, so I tried the '1939(Suppl)' page instead. Down in the section dated 20 Oct 1939 I found item #541 'Licensing Sessions', which had exactly the information I was looking for.

I've used a similar approach to find a year's Juror List when the search page didn't return any matches. The Table of Contents looks like it holds all sorts of interesting things - well worth a look.

Regards, David