Asylum-seeking Journeys in Asia: Refugees in Hong Kong and Bangkok

51BGzYfc1WL._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_Between 2008 and 2017, the number of refugees in Hong Kong and Bangkok increased by approximately 15% and 20% respectively.

Terrence Chun Tat Shum’s comparative study of refugees in these two bustling Asian cities provides a stark warning about the effects of prolonged displacement, societal exclusion and marginalisation, while examining the mechanisms that allow such exclusions to take place.

Shum’s ethnographic approach focuses on asylum-seeking journeys. It examines the process and events of refuge, as well as the social worlds of urban refugees. Hong Kong and Bangkok, he argues, are both places of limbo for refugees ‘haunted by terrifying memories of loss and seduced by a longing for resettlement and stability’.

‘Asylum-seeking Journeys in Asia’ gives voice to the modern refugee and their unique migration experiences. It enriches our understanding of asylum, the meaning of displacement and urban refugee livelihoods in an Asian context.


A Century of Jewish Life in Shanghai


Professor Steve Hochstadt’s latest offering has just hit the shelves. ‘A Century of Jewish Life in Shanghai’ features chapters written by well-known scholars in the field including Maisie Meyer, Jonathan Goldstein and Xu Xin. Contributors explore themes including refuge, migration, survival, imagined communities and memory.

‘For a century, Jews were an unmistakable and prominent feature of Shanghai life. They built hotels and stood in bread lines, hobnobbed with the British and Chinese elites and were confined to a wartime ghetto. Jews taught at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, sold Viennese pastries, and shared the worst slum with native Shanghainese. Three waves of Jews, representing three religious and ethnic communities, landed in Shanghai, remained separate for decades, but faced the calamity of World War II and ultimate dissolution together. In this book, we hear their own words and the words of modern scholars explaining how Baghdadi, Russian and Central European Jews found their way to Shanghai, created lives in the world’s most cosmopolitan city, and were forced to find new homes in the late 1940s.’

Blogroll (2): Recommended Reads

Following on from last year’s blogroll, here are a few more online resources to add to your ‘favourites’ tab:

The Dark World’s Fire: Tom and Lena Edgar in War

This blog is written by Brian Edgar, an academic and author based in Britain who grew up in Hong Kong. Edgar uses his blog to trace the history of his parents, Thomas and Evelina Edgar, from 1941 to 1945 (hence the title). In doing so he takes us on a journey to wartime Hong Kong, probing issues around race, identity, and the lives of marginalised minorities. Both original and thought provoking, this blog is one of my ‘must reads’.

Hong Kong War Diary

Tony Banham is probably one Hong Kong’s most prolific and well-known historians, and is responsible for much of our knowledge about Hong Kong’s WW2 military history. Banham writes monthly updates about his work, and extensively about all facets of Hong Kong’s war.

Refugees of Habsburgia in China

And finally, the ‘Refugees of Habsburgia’ is a relatively new blog written by PhD student Matyas Mervay. It traces the history of Central European refugees in the Republic of China (1912 – 1949); Mervay’s accounts of archival research in China are particularly illuminating.


Wynne Ward and the 1940 Evacuation

My most recent blog posting discussed the internment of civilians at Stanley Internment Camp during the Japanese Occupation of Hong Kong (1941 – 1945). Today’s posting investigates the evacuation of British women and children in 1940 through the story of Wynne Ward, who sadly passed away in 2017. This article was originally written for The Hong Kong Heritage Project’s Past & Present magazine. 

Wynne Ward was born in Hong Kong in 1917 and died in Stanley in 2017, making her one of Hong Kong’s longest living residents of British descent. The daughter of two Yorkshire emigres, Wynne’s father was Arthur Robert Fenton-Raven, the renowned architect who built King Yin Lei, a palatial mansion situated on Stubb’s Road which was a backdrop for films ‘Soldier of Fortune’ (1955) and ‘Love is a Many Splendored Thing’ (1955). Wynne spoke to HKHP in 2008 and gave vivid accounts of her pre-war colonial life, the evacuation of Hong Kong in 1940 and an invaluable insight into the social history of Britons in the city.

Up until the Second World War, Wynne lived with her parents and sister at Tsat Tsz Mui in North Point, then a rural enclave on Hong Kong Island. ‘It was all countryside in those days and nice beaches along the main road and we had a bungalow sort of halfway up a hill.’ Her life as a young woman there, though devoid of indoor sanitation, air conditioning, proper refrigeration and at constant risk of malaria and TB, was interspersed with carefree swimming parties and tennis lessons. On hot, sticky summer nights the family would sleep on the lawn in camp beds, protected only by mosquito nets. Wynne kept a donkey called Dennis and for a short time cared for a honey bear, a pet that was quickly returned to its original owner. ‘We had a job trying to get it back up to the hill, to the other house, but we eventually managed to get it back there by putting a honey tin in front of it and rattling it, and it could smell the sweetness’. Wynne vividly remembered the devastating typhoon of 1926, which caused one of the greatest floods in Hong Kong’s history. The typhoon ‘went on all night long’ and resulted in smashed windows and more than a dozen villagers taking refuge in the family home. School was at Central British School (CBS) where students would eat ‘very good curries’ for lunch. Along with other children from North Point, Wynne took the ‘school boat’ – the Tai Koo launch – to school every morning and back.

Wynne and her sister enthusiastically took part in the then colony’s vibrant social scene. As talented ballet and ballroom dancers they were often asked to perform ‘floor shows’ at glamourous balls. Tea dances were held every afternoon at the Hong Kong Hotel on Pedder Street, as well as The Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon and the Repulse Bay Hotel on the south side of the Island. The ladies would wear strings of cards around their wrists on which men could write their names for the privilege of a dance. ‘It was a different sort of existence altogether’ recalled Wynne, with one girl to every five men. Another important part of the social scene were the parties held on P&O ocean liners. They left for Britain every fortnight, transporting civil servants to Britain on ‘home leave’. Before the ship’s departure Wynne would enjoy on-board cocktails and a live band, and later, ‘streamers would be thrown down to the people who were waiting on the wharf’ in a classic colonial image of pre-Handover Hong Kong. Such social conventions and forms of entertainment were exported from Britain, and although they served to re-enforce cultural separation, they also engendered a ‘home away from home’.

Although many Britons in Hong Kong were undisturbed by the prospect of war in Europe and the Japanese advance in China, Wynne remembers the sudden departure of several naval officers to fight for the Allied cause in September 1939:

‘I remember when the war broke out between Germany and England. We had a tennis party on that day and we had a lot of Royal Naval officers up playing tennis, and suddenly it was announced on the radio and one of them said; ‘we’ve got to go now’. And some of them of course went off and we never saw again. They were killed.’

Wynne, her sister and mother were among the women of ‘pure European descent’ evacuated from Hong Kong in June 1940 when war against Japan became likely. Over one third of Hong Kong’s British population was sent to Australia in a highly contentious policy governed by colonial notions of ‘Britishness’ and shaped by categories of race and class. Wynne set sail on the Empress of Asia, first stopping in the Philippines for six weeks before reaching Sydney in Australia. During the war Wynne worked as a model and met her future husband, John Ward, a Royal Naval officer who later became managing director of Gammon in Hong Kong. Wynne’s father was interned in Stanley Civilian Internment Camp and emerged looking ‘terrible’ as ‘all skin and bone’.

After the war, Wynne and John returned to Hong Kong following a short stint in Britain and Singapore. They started a family and moved to Shek O, then settled in Stanley. On the weekends Wynne would frequent Hollywood Road, where she discovered ‘wonderful bargains’ in her search for Chinese antiques. She remembered the open nullah running down Peddar Street and the low-rise buildings of Central District. Wynne fondly recalled Maxims (now Landmark Building) where she would meet her friends for coffee – her social circle included such renowned figures as the philanthropist Noel Croucher. After the 1997 Handover she lamented the end of the British Empire in Asia. Wynne, who lived in Hong Kong most of her life, was certainly the product of a bygone colonial era, but she always called Hong Kong home.

For a list of evacuees and more information on the 1940 evacuation of Hong Kong, check out Vivian Kong’s excellent blog ‘1940 Evacuation of Hong Kong British Families to Australia’.

Child of Internment

In previous blog posts I’ve written about the lives of uninterned Russians and Parsees during the Japanese Occupation of Hong Kong. In this article, originally written for The Hong Kong Heritage Project’s Past & Present magazine, I speak to George Cautherley, a fifth generation Hong Kong resident, to explore the experience of internment in Hong Kong as a British national. George was born in Hong Kong’s Stanley Internment Camp in 1942 and went on to become a successful bio-tech entrepreneur and was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s 2008 Birthday Honours.

A former internee looks  back at Stanley Internment Camp. Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia.

When Past & Present sat down to talk to George Cautherley about his family’s connection to China and the first three years of his life spent in Stanley Internment Camp, we soon sensed his keen attachment to Hong Kong and his deep understanding of its past. George’s passion for history has recently found voice in the University of Bristol’s ‘Hong Kong History Project’, where he sponsors a PhD scholarship, and on the issue of an Archival Law for Hong Kong, one of many policy issues that have caught his attention in recent years. His enthusiasm for Hong Kong is hardly surprising considering his progeny: George is the fifth generation of his family to live and work in China. George’s mother, Dorothy Cautherley (née Campbell), was a descendent of the Heards, the family behind the famous trading firm ‘Augustine Heard & Co’ who have been active in China since the early 1800s. Dorothy herself was pioneering and headstrong – born in Shanghai in 1912, she was one of the first women to work for the Hong Kong Bank (HSBC), meticulously checking letters of credit. George’s father, George Hunter Cautherley (George Sr.), came to Shanghai from Britain in 1927, also to work for the bank. His family first arrived in Hong Kong in the 1860s, when descendent James Gregg worked for HSBC (Gregg was one of eleven members of the family to hold senior positions in the firm). George describes himself as a ‘Hong Kong Bank kid’ and remembers visiting his father in The Peninsula Hotel, which was for a time home to the only HSBC branch in Kowloon.

Dorothy and George Sr. met in Shanghai, fell in love, got married, and moved to Hong Kong in 1938, where they lived a comfortable life. However, the couples’ serene existence was soon torn apart when Japan invaded Hong Kong in December 1941. Their home, situated on The Peak, was destroyed by the British Army during the defence of the colony and their possessions wiped out. Dorothy, who had not been evacuated to Australia with other British women in 1940, volunteered as a nurse at Bowen Road Hospital, while George Sr. worked and slept on a camp bed at the bank headquarters. He was asked to help operate the bank while hostilities raged outside its doors. When Hong Kong fell after a brief but intense period of fighting on 25 December 1941, all British and Allied nationals were told to assemble at the Murray Barracks parade ground and were marched to the hotels of Western District before being transferred by boat to Stanley.

George recounts his mother’s confusion amidst the chaos of those early days: ‘when we got to the hotel we looked round the facilities and we said – we couldn’t find the dining rooms, and so we asked the staff there, ‘where are the dining rooms?’ and they said: ‘it’s not that kind of hotel’!’. Dorothy soon realised that they had been taken to a brothel. In the bleakness of war, the couple decided to try to regain some control of their fate by starting a family. George was conceived in the brothel and nine months later was born in Stanley Camp’s Tweed Bay Clinic, where he was delivered as a typhoon struck the Island. Dorothy struggled through a difficult labour. Anaemic and suffering from malaria, she almost died but was saved thanks to a risky blood transfusion. During Dorothy’s recovery, newborn George was cared for by a coterie of British women, among them Lady May Ride, the wife of Professor Lindsay Ride who escaped internment in Sham Shui Po military camp and set up the British Army Aid Group which gathered intelligence and assisted P.O.W. escapees. George spent the first three years of his life living in an alcove with his devoted parents. Life in camp was monotonous: much time was spent waiting in line for food from the canteen (often hot congee or rice served in tin cups) and attending roll call. George played with other children in camp, sometimes on Tweed Bay Beach, where internees were permitted to swim. George never had any shoes – he received his first pair after the war – and suffered from dysentery at least once. But in many ways, life in camp was better for children than it was for adults, who bore the burden of survival. George reflects that ‘we had the best of it, family made sure you got whatever food there was, my mother told me she sold whatever jewellery she had over time in order to buy food for me’. The years spent in Stanley left its mark in other ways. One of George’s most vivid childhood memories is when his mother frantically ran outside to take him back to the safety of the alcove. He believes this happened in the aftermath of the accidental bombing of a bungalow in the Stanley complex by American forces.

The Union Jack is raised after the surrender of Japanese forces. Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia.

When Stanley was finally liberated in 1945, George was taken from camp with his mother to a ship destined for Southampton, in England, while his father temporarily stayed behind to help rebuild the colony and the bank. It was the start of George’s transient life shuttling between Britain, where he was educated, and Hong Kong, where his parents resided, before he permanently settled in Hong Kong in 1964 to work for his uncle’s medical products business. He has remained here ever since, developing the company to new heights and working as a successful bio-tech entrepreneur. Like many children of internment, George is keen to connect with others who shared his experience of detention. He has attended numerous reunions organised by historians and former internees, the most recent was held in 2015 to commemorate the camp’s 70th anniversary. George estimates that he has met at least twenty former internees, including Dennis Clarke, a hotelier also born in camp. Now, as the only generation left who remembers Stanley, George feels a keen sense of responsibility to preserve the memory of Hong Kong’s P.O.W. camp. He has shared his recollections with historians and journalists, and now, after an oral history interview with HKHP, researchers can access his story in our archive, too.