Centre of Urban History, Culture and Media

Story of the Month - January 2017

Story of the Month - Janurary 2017 

每月故事 - 二零一七年一月

Do you know that Hong Kong has as many as 300,000 "returned overseas Chinese" rooted in Southeast Asia?



Centre Fellow Dr. Ong Kok-chung, himself a Chinese Malaysian, is interested in the life histories of "returned overseas Chinese". Born mostly in Indonesia or Malaysia, these overseas Chinese had moved to China in the 1950s and 60s to work or study. Some were inspired by the Communist revolution to "contribute to the motherland", while others were expelled by the local regimes due to their connection with communism. In China, however, they were not trusted by the Chinese government because of their "foreign connections" and suffered great hardship during the Cultural Revolution. When policies relaxed in the 1970s, they were allowed to leave China, but they were still blacklisted by their home country, so many of them settled in Hong Kong.



In Hong Kong, these returnees kept a low profile on their Southeast Asian origin, and were seen as new immigrants from mainland China by the locals. Many of them are elderly people, now in their seventies and eighties, who still identify themselves as culturally Chinese and use Mandarin as their most fluent language. This neglected group of migrants is part of what makes Hong Kong a diverse, international city.



Kok chung ONG


Performance of the song "I Love You, China" in the 25th anniversary of the Hong Kong Surabaya Alumni Association, a reminiscence of the complex patriotism shared by many returned overseas Chinese. Photo by Kok-Chung ONG



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Story of the Month - October 2016

Story of the Month - October 2016 

每月故事 - 二零一六年十月

Currently, there are over 340,000 foreign domestic workers (FDWs) in Hong Kong. Most of them are women and from mainly the Philippines and Indonesia. Although many of them have lived and worked in Hong Kong for years, they are not eligible for Hong Kong citizenship due to Hong Kong’s immigration policies. 




Center member and anthropologist Dr. Ju-chen Chen has been researching on Filipino community in Hong Kong with a focus on pageants since 2011. She spent many Sundays with the organizers and contestants. “Domestic workers are actually very busy on Sundays – their only day off,” Dr. Chen said. “For beauty pageant participants, they have to create or order their costumes, arrange for make-up services, join photo-shooting sessions, and also continue to rehearse for the shows.” When Dr. Chen asked them why they spent so much time and money for these events, “I have talent and confidence. I want to show others that they can do it too,they answered. Through beauty contests, these FDWs create a community for themselves and show themselves as well as the society that they are valuable, not merely dispensable temporary labor force.

本中心成員人類學家陳如珍博士從2011年起研究菲律賓外傭群體。其中,她又特別關注菲傭群體所舉辦的選美活動在週日時,往往與比賽的組織者和選美佳麗們一起東奔西跑完成各項準備工作。陳博士說:「大家常說星期日是外傭的休息日。但是外傭們在星期天其實是非常忙碌的。對於選美比賽的參與者而言,她們要自行籌備服裝、安排髮型和化妝的服務參加定裝照的拍攝,還要一再的參與走台步的訓練和選美表演的預演。 」當被問及為什麼要花錢花時間參加這些活動時,她們的答案是:「我有才華和自信。我想要讓別人知道我們一樣,都是有才華又美麗的人」。通過選美比賽,這些菲律賓外傭建立起自己的社群,同時努力讓自己和所處的社會明白她們的價值。希望主流社會不要再視她們為可有可無的短期勞工。



Dr. Chen’s research shows that FDWs, just like everyone else, have multiple identities, such as mothers, event organizers or beauty queens. We should see them as workers with personal life and not “just maids.”




Juchen Chen

Winners of Miss Pinoyshot Princess 2014. Photo by Ju-chen Chen

2014年比諾依攝小姐選美皇后. 攝影: 陳如珍.


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Story of the Month - September 2016

Story of the Month - September 2016 

每月故事 - 二零一六年九月

In 2015, there were nearly 11,000 asylum seekers in Hong Kong with outstanding claims. While Hong Kong does not resettle refugees locally, the city has the obligation to screen and process asylum and torture claims. Yet asylum seekers and refugees are prohibited from working, studying, and volunteering while their application is being processed - sometimes for longer than 10 years. Meanwhile they live on a meager support of $1,500 rental allowance, $1,200 food coupons, and minimal utilities support each month. This has created conditions of enforced destitution for asylum-seekers and refugees - even though they have many skills and talents to offer. Mainstream media tends to portray them as criminals, and academic studies often depict them as oppressed persons doing everything they can just to survive. One of the myths is that asylum-seekers are getting married with locals for the sole purpose of getting a Hong Kong Identity Card. Centre member and anthropologist Prof. Sealing Cheng's research about the intimate life of African asylum seekers and refugees in Hong Kong shows a different side of the story.



Prof. Cheng shared the experience of David (pseudonym), an asylum seeker from West Africa and a decent looking and trendily-dressed young man in his twenties. David was pursued by an older wealthy local woman, who treated him with expensive meals and even invited him to come to her house afterward. Most people may expect that an asylum seeker in his situation would be eager to develop a romantic relationship with any local woman to obtain Hong Kong residence. Yet David said he was "afraid" when he was with her, indicating his lack of interest in this woman who could offer him not just HKID but also material comforts. His true love, as Prof. Cheng later found out, was a younger woman, who had a more humble lifestyle.



Through stories like David's, Prof. Cheng shows that asylum seekers, just like anyone of us, have love and desire. It is important for us to recognize the humanity of asylum-seekers and refugees, and formulate policies that facilitate the exercise of their basic human rights, as well as to address problems of discrimination against them because of their race and immigration status.



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Story of the Month - August 2016

Story of the Month - August 2016 

每月故事 - 二零一六年八月


As migrants move away from home, they bring a part of their culture to their new home, such as the games they play. This is true for South Asians in Hong Kong too.




Centre member Dr. Wyman Tang's research project is about the globalization and localization of Kabaddi, a sport originated in South Asia. The game is played by two teams of seven, and it requires no equipment other than an open space. In the past two years, Dr. Tang partnered with the local Nepali community to promote this traditional sport in Hong Kong. "Many Hong Kong locals found the game fun and exciting", he said, "We adopted new rules to make the game more gender inclusive".




The mainstream society often expects ethnic minorities to assimilate into mainstream culture, as if they are merely passive recipients. Yet Dr. Tang found that ethnic minorities are eager to share their own culture as well. Through sports like Kabaddi, he hopes to introduce real contact and mutual understanding between ethnic groups.




Wyman Tang 1


Kabaddi Players in a Secondary School in Dhangadhi, Nepal. Photo by Wyman Tang



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Story of the Month - July 2016

Story of the Month - July 2016 

每月故事 - 二零一六年七月

About 700 years ago, a Chinese diplomat Zhou Daguan visited Angkor, a then-prosperous city in the Khmer Empire. His book The Customs of Cambodia portrays the everyday life of local people in this city with his firsthand experience.




Using clues from Zhou's book, our Centre member Sharon Wong Wai-yee digs into the stories behind the rise and fall of the ancient Angkor. As an archaeologist specialized in Southeast Asia and China, Sharon found "book knowledge" both informative and misleading. "Based on Zhou's description of the city's different architectural buildings and fabrics, archaeologists were able to identify the city's palace and temples that confirms the historical record." she said, "but Chinese records of that time are often tainted with a Sino-centric bias that undermines their reliability. Such bias, still lingers today."




Truth is the best weapon to dispel biases. Sharon's work pieces together fragments from the past and unearths new stories of the ancient Angkor people. Could the demise of this once-vibrant civilization give us insights in understanding today's cities?




The ancient capital city, Angkor, Cambodia (Photo by Sharon Wong)


The ancient capital city, Angkor, Cambodia (Photo by Sharon Wong)


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Story of the Month - June 2016

Story of the Month - June 2016 

每月故事 - 二零一六年六月

How did temple processions, once regarded as superstitious by Hong Kong’s Chinese and British elites, become revived as a heritage and tourist attractions?




Centre member and anthropologist Joseph (“Joe”) Bosco has been studying urban religion in Hong Kong. Temple processions associated with Chinese popular religious festivals used to be celebrated only within a local neighborhood. They were regarded as “backward” by elites and were strictly constrained by the police. Yet after the Handover in 1997, some processions have been rebranded as a heritage that represent Hong Kong’s—or even Chinese—tradition, and are funded and promoted by government agencies as tourist attractions, while their religious meaning is being downplayed.




Through studying the changing social meanings of temple processions, Joe’s research reveals how religion is shaped by politics. What people commonly refer to as “religion”, he argues, is part of the symbolism that we use daily, and should not simply be dismissed as superstitious.




Joe Bosco ShauKeiWan184 resized

Temple procession in Shau Kei Wan celebrating the “Birthday of Tam Kung” in 2013. Photo by Joseph Bosco.




Further readings:

2015 "Urban Processions: Colonial Decline and Revival as Heritage in Postcolonial Hong Kong." In Peter van der Veer, ed., Handbook of Religion and the Asian City: Aspiration and Urbanization in the Twenty-first Century, pp. 110-130. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

2015 "Chinese Popular Religion and Hong Kong Identity". Asian Anthropology 14(1): 8-20.

2016 "The Sacred in Urban Political Protests in Hong Kong". International Sociology doi:10.1177/0268580916645767

Story of the Month - May 2016

Story of the Month - May 2016 

每月故事 - 二零一六年五月


What does a place’s physical setup has to do with the sense of community?



This question of human-space relation is what Professor Wallace Chang, one of the Centre’s members, has been exploring in his works. Trained as an architect, his designs range from public bathrooms to university buildings. Openness and simplicity are two core themes in his designs.



“The high density apartment blocks in Hong Kong cannot cultivate the kind of neighborhood relations common in rural villages,” Wallace said. “Interaction in public space is the key”. He designed an award-winning teaching building in his home department—the School of Architecture at CUHK—where a spacious atrium provides a space in which students of different levels and teachers interact casually. The unadorned cement exterior reflects the philosophy that university education should be pure and modest, and it helps to keep the construction costs relatively low. Wallace said users of the building have responded positively to the design-- some commented that it feels spacious, distinctive, and yet friendly. 



Interior of the "An Integrated Teaching Building" in CUHK designed by Wallace Chang. Photo by Wallace Chang.


Story of the Month - April 2016

Story of the Month - April 2016

每月故事 - 二零一六年四月

What comes first to your mind when you think about overseas domestic workers?



Centre member Carol Chow is making a documentary on Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong. She first met Jude (not her real name), the main character of the documentary, in a beauty contest. “I went to church with her the week after,” Carol said, “I was shocked by the charismatic church service. People were dancing fervently, waving their hands and screaming aloud. I first thought it was a cult!”



Such initial shock is common for anyone crossing cultural boundaries. “Once I get to know her better,” Carol added, “I realized that the church is an important source of emotional and spiritual support for the domestic workers, who depart from their family for years to work aboard. Jude, for example, has to leave her own infant child at home in order to care for her employer’s.”



Through visual means like documentary and photography, Carol seeks to empower marginalized migrant workers and show their stories to a wider audience.



The pain and sorrow of foreign domestic helpers

The pain and sorrow of foreign domestic helpers


This photo, taken by Carol, was selected as the finalist in WYNG organized photo competition on the theme of Gender and Poverty held in 2012. It has also been exhibited in the following exhibition: Floating Lives: The Life of Migrant Workers, “Changing Lenses: an Invitation to Visual Sociology”, Hong Kong University 9/2013 – 10/2013

此圖為周佩霞所攝,曾入圍WYNG舉辦的攝影比賽性別與貧窮組公開組比賽。此圖亦曾於2013年在香港大學舉辦的 Floating Lives: The Life of Migrant Workers, "Changing Lenses: an Invitation to Visual Sociology" 攝影展展出。