Updated Object Label and Catalogue Entry


View of Spring Gardens

Murdoch Bruce and A. Maclure

Lithography and Paint

20th August 1846

Object Label

The society in British Hong Kong was racially segregated into two main groups, the local Chinese, and the foreigners, mainly the British but also included other Europeans. The land was separated and there were even racial laws erected to prevent the Chinese from living of the certain ‘elite’ areas that were occupied by the British.

This image is one of a series of prints by Murdoch Bruce and A. Maclure. It depicts Hong Kong as stylised towards British taste, where the British were able to enjoy Victorian style luxuries and were considered superior to the natives. This idea of superiority was brought out in the image by having a local Chinese man bow to a group of foreigners, which are likely to be British — in Chinese culture, bowing is a way to show respect to one’s superiors.

While the image may portray a grandeur Colonial Hong Kong, it also highlights the immense difference in the socio-economic status between the two races. The British are seen as the elites of the nation, dressing in splendour, while the local Chinese are dress in simple, traditional clothes and are depicted as serving the British.

Catalogue Entry

View of Spring Gardens

Murdoch Bruce and A. Maclure

Lithography and Paint

20th August 1846

Hong Kong Museum of Art

Relations between the Chinese and the British have never been very strong. Since the Macartney Embassy, the first British diplomatic mission to China, trade relations between Britain and China were mostly unsuccessful. It was during this mission that resentment for performing ‘kowtow’ —bowing in respect to one’s superior — emerged in the British. This unwillingness to ‘kowtow’ made the Chinese refer to the British as uncivilised.

When trade was finally established between China and Britain, China had become the main supplier of tea for the British. Tea was in such great demand amongst the British, that it created a great trade imbalance between the two nations.

The Chinese at the time, were highly addicted to opium. And as Britain had great access to opium in Bengal, they engaged in, and exploited the opium trade in China in order to make up for the trade imbalance, disregarding the social implications of the Chinese. Taking notice of this exploitation of the trade, Lin Zexu, a Chinese commissioner appointed by the Qing Emperor, declared the refusal of opium in China and proceeded to destroy 20,000 chests of opium. While the British did not object to the refusal of opium, they were greatly insulted by the actions taken by the Chinese. These events sparked the First Opium War between Great Britain and China. The war eventually ended with the British as victors, and Hong Kong Island came into their possession.

After Hong Kong had been colonised, there was an incredible amount of racial segregation between the local Chinese and the foreigners, which were mainly British, but also included other Europeans. The Western part of Hong Kong was where the local Chinese would reside, having Chinese style architecture, crowded living spaces, and markets. The Eastern part of Hong Kong was filled with Victorian-style comforts. This part of Hong Kong had little resemblance to that of China as it was built using heavy British influence. Certain racial laws even prevented the Chinese from living in the elite areas occupied by the British.

This image depicts a scene in Spring Gardens, an area in Queen’s Road which was located in the Eastern portion of British Hong Kong. It is difficult to identify that this image was painted in reference to Hong Kong. The building has no resemblance to Chinese style architecture, and in fact takes influence from British and other European style buildings. It has a plain flat roof, with no roof ornaments such as lions or dragon, and also incorporates columns, which has its origins in Ancient Greece. The main subjects of the image are also foreign occupants instead of the local Chinese. The foreign occupants, who are likely to be the British colonisers, are seen dressed in elaborate attire with headdresses to display their wealth in comparison to the locals, which are dressed in more simple attire. The British women depicted in the image are dressed in long and decorated dressed which are tapered at the waist to accentuate their figure. The local women are depicted wearing simple clothing with their hair tied back in a bun. At the same time, the foreign men are dressed in long coats and top hats while the local men are in traditional Chinese clothing and have their head’s half-shaved and their hair tied in a plait.

It can also be seen that from the artists’ perspective, the foreigners had a higher socio-economic status as compared to the locals as we have a local Chinese man bowing to a group of foreigners, thereby regarding them as his superiors.

View of Spring Garden was made, first, using a method known as lithography. Lithography is a process that makes use of the natural repulsion of water and oil. After drawing an image using greasy mediums on a piece of limestone, applying gum arabic and nitric acid would combine the greasy particles. This will cause the image area to absorb the ink applied to the stone and the blank areas to reject the inks. Therefore, only the imaged area would be printed. The image was later painted by Scottish painter Murdoch Bruce. This is one of the images in a series of prints made by A. Maclure and Murdoch Bruce depicting life in British Hong Kong in the 19th Century.

This painting has preserved not only the idealised view of British Hong Kong at the time, but it also shows us how differently the British viewed themselves as colonisers in comparison to those that they have colonised. With the extensive modernisation of Hong Kong in present day, it is images like View of Spring Gardens that retain the image of colonial Hong Kong, an image that will, soon, be erased from Hong Kong’s architectural heritage.

References & Further Reading

Wang, D. (2014). Identity and group conflict in the first British embassy to China in 1792 (Doctoral dissertation, uniwien).

Karsh, J. A. (1834). The Root of the Opium War: Mismanagement in the Aftermath of the British East India Company’s Loss of its Monopoly in 1834 (Doctoral dissertation, University of Pennsylvania).

History of Colonial Hong Kong (1800s – 1930s). (n.d.). Retrieved October 21, 2015, from http://self.gutenberg.org/articles/history_of_colonial_hong_kong_(1800s_-_1930s)

WHAT IS LITHOGRAPHY? (n.d.). Retrieved October 25, 2015, from http://tamarind.unm.edu/about-us/20-what-is-lithography

Author: Josephine

I like cats 8)

One thought on “Updated Object Label and Catalogue Entry”

  1. I have learned many new things from your object label and catalog entry–thank you!

    They are both well-written (needs some more editing), but I wonder whether certain paragraphs should be shifted around.

    What does the reading by Sylvan Barnet say about organising paragraphs for object labels, wall text panels, and catalog entries?

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