China Families

Professor Robert Bickers has introduced his latest online resource: the China Families site, which features over 6,000 searchable (and free!) records for genealogists and historians, and anyone with an interest in China history. The site features an ever-growing body of information about ‘men and women of many different nationalities, professions and ages, who lived and worked in China between the 1850s and 1940s’.

As Professor Bickers writes:

It is easy to forget the scale of the foreign communities that lived in China in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Very many families in Britain, across Europe, North America, and in Australia and New Zealand, can trace family journeys through China. Many lived there for decades, and some for up to five generations before 1949 and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. These lists are testament to the intimacy of the close relations that developed between China and foreign countries in this period, under the shadow of the might of the British and other empires.

The site can be accessed here.

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’.