Hong Kong Needs its Own History
Not many of us are familiar with the History of Hong Kong
During the colonial period and after the handover, Hong Kong’s local history was never included as part of the compulsory history syllabus in primary and secondary school curriculum. Instead of learning about the history of our own city, more emphasis was placed on Chinese and world history. We read about the Cultural Revolution in China in the 60s, but not about the 1967 Hong Kong Riots; we learnt about the three years ofserious famine in China in the late 50s, but not about how Hong Kong had accepted a large number of refugees from the south in the same period. The lack of historical knowledge of our own city is reflected in the numerous challenges Hong Kong face today:
1. Ignoring the historical value of architecture, thus demolishing them with ease;
2. Ignoring the historical value of Victoria Harbour, thus constantly carrying out reclamation projects;
3. Failing to understand the present by the past experience and to recognize the impact of extreme politics;
4. Failing to build a sense of belonging to Hong Kong.
The Value of Old Photos
Hong Kong people have started to treasure our history in the recent years. Scholars are publishing history books, helping to gather relevant knowledge and tracing our genesis. On the other hand, those who not often read have a relatively smaller opportunity to understand local history. With the advancement of technology, from personal webpage and blog to Facebook and Instagram, we became more stimulated by images than words. A few “likes” and “share” of an old photo would already be able to spread the awareness of Hong Kong history. Old photos, reflecting historical facts, are the soul of history. Although occasionally there might be counterfeit or enhanced photos, they could still reflect the overall landscape when comparing with photos from around the same period. To most, photos are more impressive than chunks of passages. Old photos are forming the novel foundation of popularizing local history.
Hong Kong Government’s Copyright Restriction
The Hong Kong government has been making considerable effort at promoting history: the history, cultural, maritime, and art museums hold numerous exhibitions. Yet, those themed exhibitions are sporadic and permanent exhibitions are seldom renewed. These short comings further separate the public from learning about the past. Government Records Service, public libraries and history museums do hold a large collection of rare first-hand old photos, literature and maps; but the index is so complicated that ordinary citizens cannot easily browse through information or won’t even be bothered to do. Moreover, the Hong Kong Government’s 125-year copyright law limits the spread of published materials. According to the law, the general public cannot copy or exhibit any literature on or before the year1888. The government only published very small portions of its rare literature, so the majority of the public could only imagine the grand collection.
An Online Museum
I started looking for old photos in 2006 and eventually began uploading them to a Facebook page I created in August 2012. It allows anyone interested in Hong Kong’s exotic past to look at my collection in anytime, anywhere. Due to the copyright law and the feature of Facebook pages, we started looking for first-hand photos and postcards soon after launching the Facebook page. Apart from the comparison of new and old urban landscape, more than 90 percent of the collection is contribution from Hong Kongers. Hong Kong Old Photo’s own website was launched in August 2013 in order to feature stories told by an older generation of Hong Kongers. With the help of a few dedicated young volunteers, issue-focused research was conducted to examine Hong Kong’s story.
We all love Hong Kong wholeheartedly. It is our hope that through these old photos, Internet users can gain more historic perspectives of our beloved city.
(Translation/ 翻譯: Milia Hau, Vivian Ngo)