Images of Hong Kong in the 1920s
This real photograph postcard shows the City of Victoria, Victoria Peak and Victoria Harbour in the early 1920s, as viewed from Kowloon Peninsula.
Victoria City, Hong Kong | 1925 | Brewer & Co.; Brewer & Co. (Hong Kong) | postcard | photograph paper | 14.0 x 8.9cm
香港維多利亞城 | 1925年 | Brewer & Co.；Brewer & Co.（香港） | 明信片 | 相紙 | 14.0 x 8.9釐米
By the 1920s, Hong Kong had been colonised by Britain for 80 years and had experienced many changes. The City of Victoria, the political and economic centre, was fairly developed and of a decent size. The colony continued to be an important trading post between Asia and Europe. Hong Kong had also modernised and industrialised by the 1920s and played an important role in the economy of southern China. The city attracted investors and visitors, as well as dissidents and other rebels.
Nevertheless, Hong Kong was unknown to most British visitors to Wembley Park. Though some promotional materials and souvenirs from the British Empire Exhibition used stereotypical images of ancient China to represent Hong Kong, in general, the Hong Kong Section provided visitors and the British media with new impressions of the city, among them the development of British and Chinese-owned manufacturing industries, and the emergence of a Chinese elite.
In the exhibition halls Hong Kong was described as a modern industrial city and trade centre, with a strong contribution from British merchants. Hong Kong was presented as the Empire’s largest ship-building colony. Contrasting Hong Kong’s pre-colonial history and the changes after the introduction of British business culture, Hong Kong’s “progress” was presented as an achievement of British colonisation. This representation of “progress” is similar to other colonial sections.
The Exhibition strengthened the identity of Hong Kong’s British community but it had minimal impact on the city’s Chinese population (including some Eurasians). The Chinese exhibitors did not regard it as a showcase of British colonialism. They were much more concerned about threats to their interests amid the rise of communism in Hong Kong. As for potential friction arising from the Exhibition, the involvements of Chinese elites helped avoided discontent among the local Chinese community. Two of its notable leaders, Sir Chow Shouson and Sir Robert Hotung, were appointed Honorary Associate Commissioners of the Hong Kong Section. At Wembley Park itself, the Chinese exhibitors were more concerned with how business at their shops was faring.
The design of the Hong Kong Pavilion highlighted the colony’s links to Chinese history and culture. While it cut a striking figure at Wembley Park, the pavilion looked little different to Chinese pavilions at other early exhibitions. It did not convey Hong Kong’s particular status, i.e. a city between Britain and China in which a distinctive culture and identity had developed. The Chinese Street, sometimes also referred as the Hong Kong Street, reproduced the colony’s busy commercial ambiance. It was this that probably represented the Hong Kong of the day most accurately.
Inaccurate Representation of participants
The organiser of the British Empire Exhibition intended to “include” China to Wembely Park through the Hong Kong Section. Rather than presenting Hong Kong as a distinctive modern city in the Far East, the organiser focused on Hong Kong’s connection with traditional Chinese culture. Some souvenir postcards inaccurately presented the Hong Kong Section with the stereotypical images of ancient China.
 Bickers, R.A. (1999). Britain in China: Community, Culture and Colonialism, 1900-1949. Manchester; New York: Manchester University Press.
These illustrated postcards also intended to visually create sharp constrast between Europe/ Britain and China/ Hong Kong.
An illustrated postcard of the Chinese Street looking east | c.1924-1925 | Charles E. Flowers; Raphael Tuck & Sons (unknown) | postcard | paper | 14.0 x 8.9cm
中華街內往東面望的插畫明信片 | 約1924至1925年 | Charles E. Flowers ；拉斐爾塔克父子公司（未明） | 明信片 | 紙張 | 14.0 x 8.9釐米
An illustrated postcard of the Chinese Street looking east | 1924 | unknown; The Photochrom Co. Ltd. (London& Tunbridge Wells ) | postcard | paper | 14.0 x 8.9cm
中華街內往東面望的插畫明信片 | 1924年 | 未明；The Photochrom Co. Ltd.（倫敦、唐橋井） | 明信片 | 紙張 | 14.0 x 8.9釐米
An illustrated postcard of the Chinese Street looking west | 1924 | unknown; Fleetway Press Ltd. (London) | postcard | paper | 14.0 x 8.9cm
中華街內往西面望的插畫明信片 | 1924年 | 未明；艦隊出版社公司（倫敦） | 明信片 | 紙張 | 14.0 x 8.9釐米
Some Chinese participants were depicted wearing knee-length tunics with wide sleeves. This traditional Chinese clothing style was no longer widespread in Hong Kong in the 1920s.
The images of the European visitors contrast sharply with the Chinese Restaurant as background.
One of the Chinese participants (right) holds a red Chinese-style oil-paper umbrella, providing a sharp contrast with the lady in a short-sleeved long dress holding a white umbrella (left).