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.


Hong Kong Diary: 1941 (part 2)

As mentioned in a previous blog post, I’ve come across a diary which reveals the social, political and economic life of Hong Kong in 1941, including attitudes towards the evacuation scandal, the treatment of British and Canadian soldiers, refugee humanitarianism and race relations between the Chinese and British in the period immediately preceding the fall of Hong Kong. The diary was written by a British expatriate who had previously worked in Shanghai.

Below you’ll find the second diary extract, written on 15 – 16 November 1941, which describes a social event for the Hong Kong Volunteers, the eerie beauty of a blackout, and social work undertaken on behalf of Chinese refugees. As you’ll see below, the author expresses a fear, common at the time, that generous social welfare schemes would ‘encourage’ more Chinese refugees to settle in Hong Kong.

Last night we had one of our periodical blackouts. I went to see the 7:30 showing of the film ‘Andy Hardy’s Private Secretary’ with a friend – a delightful fellow who is in charge of the Government Radio Workshops here – and we had a quiet meal and a chat after. On returning home I saw one of the most wonderful star-lit skies that it is possible to imagine …

When I finish this page I will be going to the annual dinner of the No. 1 Machine Gun Company of the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps, of which I am a member. I was still in the training cadre when last year’s dinner was held, and I am looking forward to this evening when I shall be sitting next to congenial friends.

(The writer goes on to detail his social committee work).

At present the only other committee is in connection with free food kitchens for feeding refugee and destitute Chinese. At present there are four of these kitchens (2 on the Mainland and 2 on the Island) which between them provide over 4,000 mid-day meals daily and it is expected that this will be greatly increased in the near future.

The govt. social services are, to European eyes, inadequate but it must be remembered that any improvement in the conditions here would probably mean an influx over the border of many thousands of refugees without any certainty that they would remain to become an asset to the colony after their health and education has been looked after. At present there is no adequate primary education, and the boys’ and girls’ clubs have to provide an educational programme instead of supplementing existing education as is done in London and elsewhere in the British Isles; these clubs are open in the evenings and the daytime many of the youngsters try to earn a few cents as newsvendors and boot-blacks.


Blogroll: Recommended Reads

In recent years, more and more blogs have appeared online exploring the historical and political context of the refugee plight, both then and now. There has also been an increasing interest in the history of Hong Kong, especially via nostalgic Facebook groups or politically active Twitter accounts.

Here’s a few of my recommended (online) reads:

Refugee History

This blog boasts an impressive panel of experts seeking evidence-based solutions to the current refugee crisis. Blog posts cover book reviews, news about forced migration and probing historical essays. Recent articles include: ‘Victims of Decolonisation? The French Settlers of Algeria’ and ‘Belonging and Alienation in the Greek Return to Imbros’. You can follow Refugee History for conference highlights and other academic updates via @RefugeeHistory.

The Refugee Research Network

This excellent and wide-ranging Canadian blog covers several bases, from educational courses on offer around the world (certificates and PhD programmes), a scholars network to an excellent and user friendly research database which pools articles from all corners of the web. Articles are wide-ranging and cover the plight of refugees and displaced persons in Gaza, Kenya and Lebanon, among many other places.

The Hong Kong History Project

Not to be confused with The Hong Kong Heritage Project, this excellent resource should be a first port of call for both budding and experienced Hong Kong history enthusiasts. It features a comprehensive historiography compiled by historian Vaudine England, much of it focused on race and identity, as well as guest blogs from PhD candidates around the world.


This blog has been a staple for Hong Kong history researchers since it was first launched in 2006 by the indefatigable David Bellis. With thousands of pages of research sourced and uploaded by David and his team of volunteer netizens, this blog has been invaluable for my own research, too. Highlights include census lists, GPS maps, oral histories and much, much more.

Far East Currents

This blog is the brainchild of Dr Roy Eric Xavier, whose aim is to: ‘understand the roles that Portuguese-Macanese people played in the development of Macau, Hong Kong and other regions of southeast Asia, and their migration to other countries after World War II’. Roy has interviewed hundreds of Macanese, Portuguese-Eurasians and others who have lived or worked in Macao. Many of these interviews are featured on his blog or are available on YouTube.

China Rhyming

I’ve been a fan of Paul French since having read ‘Midnight in Peking’, his bestselling investigative thriller about the murder of a 19 year old English girl in Beijing’s ‘bad lands’. Paul’s blog, China Rhyming, covers a ‘gallimaufry of random China history and research interests’, and is well worth a read. As French (and Twain) say, ‘History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme’.

And finally …

Here’s a few of my favourite Twitterstorians you might want to follow:

@jypersian is an active Twitterstorian, based in Australia, who posts mainly about post-war migration to Australia. @petergatrell is a giant in the field of refugee studies. He regularly posts about his work and other developments in the field. @hongkonghistory, The Hong Kong History Project’s Twitter feed, is a valuable resource for Hong Kong related conferences and general Hong Kong related news and info. Finally, @vischina, administered by Professor Robert Bickers at Bristol University, gives a glimpse into the collection of 20,000+ digitised images of China (1850 – 1950) which have been painstakingly collected by the Visualising China team.