Thursday, March 10, 2016

Time Warp: Hong Kong in 1950

Dear Readers, I recently scanned some of the family negatives and slides. To continue with the Hong Kong theme of the last two articles, here are some scenes from 1950.

A short history will help set the stage. During World War II, Japanese Imperial forces occupied Hong Kong. The occupation was brutal, and, due to starvation, emigration, and mass killings, the population dropped from 1.2 million pre-war to only 600,000 by 1945. Because of its strategic position in the South China Sea, Britain reoccupied Hong Kong after the war, even though most European powers were slowly divesting themselves of their colonial possessions. From 1945-1949, Hong Kong was a rather sleepy outpost of the Empire. But in 1949, Mao Zedong's communist forces occupied all of the mainland, forcing Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang government to flee to Formosa (now Taiwan). Soon, huge numbers of Chinese fled to Hong Kong. Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45 by Barbara W. Tuchman (1972) provides an excellent background to our difficult relations with China in the pre-war and WWII era.
The photograph above shows Victoria Harbour in 1950 with American aircraft carriers at anchor. Kowloon is across the water on the peninsula. The American fleet was likely intended to send a message to Mao to not dare mess with Hong Kong. This picture may have been taken from Peak Tower, which can be reached with a tram that ascends the mountain.
This is approximately the same scene in 2014. But Hong Kong is no longer a sleepy outpost!
Back to 1950, when the streets were relatively quiet and the buildings mostly less than 4 floors high. This may be the Tsim Sha Tsui residential area. Note the Art Deco design elements. My Hong Kong friend said it is interesting that the sign says "Cuba Dance School."
This may be Lai Chi Kok, at the terminus of bus line 6.
My friend noted the signs which say "Shanghai tailors," "Shanghai herbal doctors," etc. This might be North Point, where many Shanghinese gathered in the 1950's. Notice the cars drove on the left, a legacy of the British development of the road network. That is still true today, while on the mainland, cars drive on the right (as in USA and most of Europe).
This is the Tsim Sha Tsui sports field in Kowloon. The famous clock tower is in the distance on the right.
Repulse Bay is on the south side of Hong Kong Island.
This may be Po Chong Wan, a narrow waterway between Ap Lei Chou Island and the main Hong Kong Island. Today, there are yachts, pleasure craft, and shipyards here.
An early-style selfie. Note the necktie and the British-style knee socks, all very proper for a tropical climate. Recall, once upon a time, travelers dressed well for touring. Even I recall wearing a jacket and tie in London and other capitals.
Jump ahead 64 years, and selfies are still popular. She even has an appropriate tropical hat.

The 1950 colour photograph was taken on Kodachrome film with a Leica IIIC camera and 5cm f/2.0 Summitar lens (still in use occasionally 65 years later). The black and white frames were taken on Kodak Panatomic-X film with a Canon rangefinder camera and its 50mm Serenar lens. The Canon was one of the early products of the Japanese industrial recovery after World War II. My dad took these photographs during a long trip from Guam to New York, via Hong Kong, India, Egypt, and Europe.

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