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How to Know Hong Kong and Macau

Roberto Ignacio Diaz, Dominic Cheung, Ana Paulina Lee, Authors

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The Mainland Connection

The Hong Kong Museum of History’s narrative of political and cultural continuity with mainland China stretches far back to the earliest signs of life on the island. Starting with the archaeological connection, an interactive video display entitled “Hong Kong’s historical relationship with China” includes a section that maneuvers archaeological evidence to prove Hong Kong’s relationship with mainland China. The display reads, “Archaeological findings have shown that there were signs of human inhabitation and activity in the Hong Kong area as early as 6,000 years ago, in the Neolithic Age. An abundance of unearthed artifacts also illustrated that Hong Kong is in the same cultural sphere of Guangdong in South China” (HKHM). Thus, though the museum boasts 400 million years of Hong Kong history, these millions of years seem more for the purpose of introducing the human life common to Hong Kong and the mainland than for emphasizing Hong Kong’s independent development as an island. 

The museum also stresses common cultural ties between Hong Kong and the mainland. Several recreations of places that represent Hong Kong’s past, in fact also represent traditions carried over from mainland China. For example, one reconstruction of a place typical of old Hong Kong is the replica of 84 year old Wing Wo Grocery. Not only does the display show traditional Chinese consumer goods such as dried fish, rice, soy sauce, vermicelli noodles and wine, the exhibit also includes an interview with the original owner’s nephew Kwan Moon-chiu that grounds the Hong Kong store within Chinese cultural tradition. In the interview, Kwan recounts: 

Times were hard when I was young. Many grocers sold their family properties in the mainland to raise enough capital to run their businesses in Hong Kong. The competition was not that keen, however. I was 14 in 1949, and I left Xinhui, my hometown in Guangdong to come to Hong Kong and work at Wing Wo Grocery for my uncle. (HKMH) 

In this short excerpt of his interview alone, Kwan establishes that there were many Hong Kong businessmen who had ties to the mainland (family properties), and that he himself is from Guangdong province. This family store, passed down for generations within Hong Kong, actually originated from mainland migrants who brought their traditions over with them.

Moreover, according to Kwan, the signboard in the back (the 永和 calligraphy characters and all) was fashioned by Kwan’s great uncle, “a successful candidate in the imperial examination,” a system that is an important part of Chinese heritage (HKMH). 

 In the area of dress, an exhibit displaying a Hong Kong tailor shop has the following description: 

In the early days of British rule, the Chinese still retained their customary way of living including traditional clothing style. For joyous and special occasions, chongsam (gown) and makwa (short jacket) remained the apparel for men while beautifully embroidered shanku (upper garment and trousers) and aoqun (upper garment and skirt) were worn by the wives and daughters of the notable and wealthy families. (HKMH)

In addition to referring to the Hong Kong people as Chinese, rather than using any other number of terms such as “British colonials” or “Hong Kong people” (perhaps implicated in this is also the shame of colonialism), the placard also places the style of dress at the time within Chinese tradition. 

A placard for an exhibit on Hong Kong pawnshops of the late eighteen-hundreds, early nineteen-hundreds even begins, “Pawnshops have a long history in China, as evidenced by the records showing that in 1664 there were 2,688 pawnshops in Guangdong” (HKMH, emphasis added). Other displays, ranging from ones on tea to ones about medicine, all stretch Hong Kong’s cultural traditions back to their Chinese roots. 

Finally, the Epilogue placard that ends the museum visit re-emphasizes the connection between Hong Kong and the mainland. It says:

“The ceding of Hong Kong to Britain was a historic watershed. For more than a century, Hong Kong’s developments had their own direction and pace. The relatively stable environment attracted waves of people from the mainland. Given the combination of this environment and personal motivations, these settlers gave their all to make Hong Kong the international metropolis that it is today.” (HKHM)

Interestingly, the placard attributes Hong Kong’s status as an “international metropolis” today to the diligence and efforts of mainland migrants who took advantage of British-caused stability. Rather than make any mention of people from all over the world (which would seem to make a place more “international”), the last descriptive placard in the museum instead chooses to once again cement the relationship between Hong Kong and its motherland.
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