Port of Call
Hong Kong - The Changing History of Hong Kong, Oct 30, 2010
Ko Tim-keung, a history researcher based in Hong Kong, shows black and white photos of Japanese graves in Hong Kong's oldest cemetery.
Ko Tim-keung, a history researcher based in Hong Kong, wants you to know that Hong Kong is more than just a product of Opium Wars and British colonization.

"People always say that in Hong Kong there was nothing before the Opium Wars [1839 to 1842 and 1856 to 1860]. That's wrong, and I'm always angry when I hear that. They describe it as a barren rock, with hardly a house on it."

Ko was the main educator the study programme during Peace Boat's October 30 visit to Hong Kong, entitled "An Alternative History of Hong Kong."


Guest Educator Motohashi Tetsuya visits the mixed graves of the Hong Kong Cemetery.
When the group took a break in a floating restaurant in Hong Kong's Aberdeen district, Ko took a few minutes to dispel some myths about Hong Kong's past. His main objection? The idea that all of Hong Kong's glory is due to outsiders.

"Long before the arrival of the British, there were old communities, old villages, for example Aberdeen here," he said, pointing to the mix of storefronts, yachts and tiny passenger boats outside the restaurant windows. "In the 16th and 17th centuries, this was a vibrant market place, because it's a sheltered area from the typhoons."

"And Hong Kong was not just a fishing village. On the Kowloon side, in the new territories, there are some long, well-established clans and families who have been in Hong Kong for 7-8 centuries, sometimes maybe 10 centuries, and there were marketplaces and schools, so it's a misconception that Hong Kong was nothing. No. It's wrong. It's completely wrong." And he emphasizes that Hong Kong was an international city even before the colonial period.

"Before the Opium War, a lot of European ships came into Guangzhou to trade, and before going to Guangzhou many of them would stop in Hong Kong. So, there was a lot of interaction between the natives here (and outsiders), a lot of interaction with the West." The study programme included visits to Hong Kong's oldest cemetery, the city's Stanley district, and "The Hong Kong Story" exhibit of the Hong Kong History Museum.


The view from Stanley, Hong Kong. Ko said that even as early as 1841 the district had a population of 2000 people.
Among the visitors was Peace Boat Guest Educator Motohashi Tetsuya, a cultural studies specialist. "The museum is almost like a theme park and obviously the emphasis is on the Chinese government perception of the history of the Chinese people, " said Motohashi. "So there's an obvious shift from the British History to the Chinese mainland emphasis."

When Ko was asked why the misconceptions about Hong Kong history continued, he said that a main cause was a lack of funding for well-written general histories of Hong Kong. Academics, he said, could get funding for very specific areas of research, but books of wide scope for the general public do not do much to advance one's university career.

But Ko says he will keep trying to get funding for projects that show a more complete history of his hometown. And he is always looking for ways to share his passion. After the programme officially ended in the museum, Ko accompanied participants back to the bus, continuing to share bits of history.