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 in 1841, 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 (1839), 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 in order to cater to British tastes, therefore having little resemblance to the architectural style in China. 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. The buildings depicted are built with a European influence, with a plain flat roof with no roof ornaments such as lions or dragons, and also incorporates greek columns and large windows. The subjects in the image are also mainly Europeans, most likely to be British in this context, identified by the European style of dressing that was popular during this time (19th C.). The women depicted are wearing lavish and elaborate dresses, which were heavily decorated and tapered at the waist to accentuate their figure, and head dresses, and the men are wearing long coats and top hats. Even the children shown are wearing layered clothes and hats. However this image depicts a scene in Spring Gardens, an area in Queen’s Road located in the Eastern portion of British Hong Kong.
Perhaps the only few things that allows us to identify this as Hong Kong is the insertion of several Chinese people in the image. Unlike the foreign occupants, the British, that are depicted in fanciful attire, the local Chinese are seen in more simple attire. As the Chinese tended to be more conservative at the time, the women wore clothes that did not accentuate their figure and instead gave them a more modest appearance. Their hair is also tied up into a bun. The Chinese man is seen to be dressed in a Changshan, a style of clothing which was common in China in the 19th Century, as well as have his head shaven and tied into a plait.
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 was Hong Kong conceptualised as being a haven for Victorian England in Asia, 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