Saturday, 16 October 2010

legacy

It is now more than thirteen years since the British relinquished control of Hong Kong, but it was always a Chinese city in any case, so nothing has really changed. British influence was superficial, although Hong Kong wouldn’t have such a high proportion of its population speaking English as a second language fluently had the British never come here. Perhaps surprisingly, however, beyond the linguistic footprint, there are quite a few other permanent reminders of the former British presence.

This idea first occurred to me during the nasty illness that struck me down back in March (Sick Note). I’d been coughing badly all night, and Paula was so worried that she insisted on driving me to the A&E department of our local hospital: the Prince of Wales Hospital. Then I remembered Queen Mary Hospital on Hong Kong Island, Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kowloon and Princess Margaret Hospital in the New Territories. There is also Queen Elizabeth Stadium in Wanchai, and Prince Edward Road and Princess Margaret Road in Kowloon (both major thoroughfares, naturally). The Prince of Wales Building in Wanchai might have retained its name, except that it was a British military installation, and one can assume that the People’s Liberation Army was none too pleased to have the name of such a symbol of imperialism on one of its buildings.

Other references to British royalty also failed to survive the handover. For obvious reasons, the Royal Hong Kong Police became simply the Hong Kong Police, while the Royal Observatory restyled itself as the Hong Kong Observatory (I have to confess that I still forget quite frequently and use the old name, in much the same way as I still refer to as Calcutta one of the Indian cities that has changed its name in recent years; old habits are hard to break). The Jockey Club, which controls all legal gambling in Hong Kong, also dropped the ‘Royal’ appellation. However, the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club did not change its name—whether or not to do so was decided by a ballot of its members.

You would need to be familiar with the whole of Hong Kong’s colonial history to spot other examples. For instance, almost every nineteenth-century governor of the colony is commemorated in the name of a road. The majority of these roads are in the highly sought-after residential area of Hong Kong Island known as the Mid-Levels, which overlooks the harbour, or the even more exclusive Peak, with a few down at sea level in Central or Wanchai. I’ve no idea whether these roads were named while the nominee was still in post, but if it is the case, as seems likely, it should be possible to correlate a list of past governors with a map of the relevant roads to track Hong Kong’s urban development in the nineteenth century.

This naming practice continued into the 1920s, but only one past governor has his name on a street in Kowloon. Nathan Road (aka the Golden Mile) has a fair claim to be Kowloon High Street, running as it does three miles due north from the most southerly point on the Kowloon peninsula to the edge of the New Territories (technically ‘New Kowloon’, although the phrase is never used) at, where else, Boundary Street. Yes, I’m aware that the cognomen is misleading, but calling it the Golden League would have confused the punters.

Since the Second World War, governors have lent their names to less grandiose but more practical projects, from the highly regarded Grantham College of Education to the hugely popular Maclehose Trail, a hiking trail from east to west across the New Territories that attracts the kind of puerile ticker who walks the Pennine Way or cycles the Coast to Coast back in the UK, merely to say they’ve done it.

As far as I can tell, only one past governor has left no trace of his having been here. He is also the only past governor not to have been a knight of the realm. He probably had less understanding of how Chinese people think when he arrived in 1992 than any previous new appointee, and he probably didn’t know much more when he left. And if you expect the reputation of Chris ‘Fei Pang’ Patton with the Chinese government to be rehabilitated, to the extent that he might be considered for post hoc recognition in the manner of his predecessors, you might want to consider finding something else to do while you wait, like constructing a life-size replica of a mediaeval cathedral entirely from matchsticks.

3 comments:

  1. Hello Dennis!
    Greetings to one of the very first people I met while blogging. Also one of my very first followers. I'm happy to see you up and writing.

    This was a very interesting blog post. I was in Hong Kong for a week once (in 1969), but really did no sightseeing at all. I'm sorry to say it was a drunken whirlwind of a trip.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Pat

    The Vietnam War was almost over by the time I came to Hong Kong, but I remember that it was the principal location for R&R for American soldiers from Vietnam. I assume that this is why you were here in 1969, but even if you had kept your eyes open then, you wouldn't recognize the place today.

    ReplyDelete
  3. You are correct! That is exactly why I was there. I still wish I'd paid more attention...

    ReplyDelete

Please leave a comment if you have time, even if you disagree with the opinions expressed in this post, although you must expect a robust defence of those opinions. If you don’t have time to comment but enjoyed the post, please click the +1 button on the right-hand sidebar (near the top of the page).