View of Spring Gardens
Murdoch Bruce and A. Maclure
Lithography and Paint
20th August 1846
Hong Kong Museum of Art
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. Not only did the Chinese display resentment towards the British, but the British themselves had an inherent disregard for the natives. Just before the colonisation of Hong Kong, the British exploited the addictive nature of opium in China in order to make up for a trade imbalance, ignoring the social implications it would have on the Chinese. This eventually led to the start of the First Opium War, ending in a British victory.
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 were even erected simply to prevent the Chinese from living in the elite areas occupied by the British.
It is difficult to identify that this image was painted in reference to Hong Kong, and in fact, appears to be somewhere in Europe. However this image depicts a scene in Spring Gardens, an area in Queen’s Road located in the Eastern portion of British Hong Kong. The Victorian-style of Eastern Hong Kong is heavily represented in this image as the buildings bear 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 foreign men are dressed in long coats and top hats. On the other hand, the natives are depicted wearing simple traditional attire. The women are seen wearing simple traditional clothes with their hair tied back in a bun while the men are, similarly, wearing traditional attire with their head’s half-shaven and their hair tied back in a plait, a common Chinese hairstyle at the time.
Consider how the artists’ represents the socio-ecnomic status between the two races: a local woman works on a fishing boat while a foreign woman is taking a leisurely walk with her pet beneath an umbrella. A local man bows to a group of foreigners, showing them respect and regarding them as his superiors. This image displays the idealistic views that the British had over Hong Kong. Not only did Hong Kong appear to have a British or European style of living, but the British themselves were portrayed as superior to their colony’s local inhabitants. However, the attitude that the Chinese possessed towards their colonisers was very different. Instead of regarding them as superiors, many Chinese referred to the British as uncivilised barbarians. This view of the British surfaced when the first British Envoy to China had refused to ‘kowtow’ — otherwise known as to bow in respect — to the Chinese Emperor.
This print preserves not only the idealised view of British Hong Kong, but it also shows us how differently the British viewed themselves as colonisers in comparison to those that they have colonised. The truth behind colonial Hong Kong, while first appearing to be hidden in this image, is actually emphasised in minor ways. With the extensive modernisation of Hong Kong’s cityscape in present day, many colonial architectural structures are being torn down or heavily renovated, leaving little to no resemblance to its original form. It is images such as 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. (2008). 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