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Changing times and a welcome arrival

A couple of months ago, I again had the very enjoyable task of 'casting my eye' over David Bellis's latest book, Volume 5 of his Old Hong Kong Photos and The Tales They Tell before it went to press. Of course, there was little for me to add - David is a meticulous historian, who takes little for granted and can support his assertions with excellent research, but (happily for my self-esteem) I could suggest a couple of minor details. Generous guy as he is, my 'thank you' copy for this small service started its journey to me last Thursday and arrived (HK-UK) in super-swift time - in less than six days. And now with the real thing in my hands, I can confirm that it’s a fascinating, insightful read.

It was pretty sure to be a winner for me, as the subject here is simply 'people' - all the vast variety that have gone to make Hong Kong the place it is. Using the successful formula of several double-spread photographs, with details enlarged and a wealth of additional, smaller, photos, we're taken through some of the different groupings that would be encountered, from the 1880s to the 1930s and beyond. For example, there are trades and professions, from the sew-sew women to the dock engineers, people at leisure - a street conjuror entertaining his audience and the westerners packed into a stand at Happy Valley on Race Day. Those whose presence in Hong Kong was more transitory, such as the soldiers and sailors of various nationalities, appear here, together with the farmers of the New Territories who could trace their ancestry back far longer than anyone on Hong Kong Island. And the important contributions of people of many ethnicities are not ignored. And through all of this, David lightly weaves his well-researched scholarship. 

I think my favourite photograph has to be that on page 25 - a bustling market scene on Centre Street in the 1950s. David is here demonstrating how the demographics had changed from the very male-dominated place of even 50 years earlier. Of the many men, women and children going about their business, perhaps only two seem aware of the camera - a young girl in the centre foreground frowns her curiosity, while a man selling food, crouched at his street 'stall' of a couple of baskets, some bowls and the food looks unconcerned into the lens. But it's all the other details that fascinate me - the dress, the occupations and interactions of the people, and the riot of hangings from the buildings - all with stories to tell, if they could. David has kindly allowed me to use a copy of this photo here below - you should be able to expand it. He also reminded me that, although it receives brief treatment in the book, this photo was the subject of greater scrutiny and discussion at

You can get your own copy of this book - or, indeed, any of the series at or from Amazon or good bookshops in HK, if you're there. As you realise, I can't recommend it highly enough.

David and his family have been a constant in my HK life since I met them back in 2010. I've gained so much insight into the history of HK from him and his work on that I owe him a very great deal. But he's been in HK for thirty years or so, now and they've decided it's time to relocate themselves to the UK. So Volume 5 of Old Hong Kong Photos is likely to be the last - but I can't wait to find out what projects David launches into when back in Britain.


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