Hong Kong Migrant Lives, Landscapes, and Journeys
by Caroline Knowles and Douglas Harper
University of Chicago Press, 2009
Cloth: 978-0-226-44856-5 | Paper: 978-0-226-44857-2 | Electronic: 978-0-226-44858-9
ABOUT THIS BOOKAUTHOR BIOGRAPHYREVIEWSTABLE OF CONTENTS

ABOUT THIS BOOK

In 1997 the United Kingdom returned control of Hong Kong to China, ending the city’s status as one of the last remnants of the British Empire and initiating a new phase for it as both a modern city and a hub for global migrations. Hong Kong is a tour of the city’s postcolonial urban landscape, innovatively told through fieldwork and photography.

Caroline Knowles and Douglas Harper’s point of entry into Hong Kong is the unusual position of the British expatriates who chose to remain in the city after the transition. Now a relatively insignificant presence, British migrants in Hong Kong have become intimately connected with another small minority group there: immigrants from Southeast Asia. The lives, journeys, and stories of these two groups bring to life a place where the past continues to resonate for all its residents, even as the city hurtles forward into a future marked by transience and transition. By skillfully blending ethnographic and visual approaches, Hong Kong offers a fascinating guide to a city that is at once unique in its recent history and exemplary of our globalized present.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY

Caroline Knowles is professor of sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London, and the author of Race and Social Analysis. Douglas Harper is professor of sociology at Duquesne University and the author of Changing Works: Visions of a Lost Agriculture.

REVIEWS

“Knowles and Harper have brought the postcolonial down to earth in this poignant portrait of the intersections between migrants of diverse origins and circumstances residing in Hong Kong. Their study reminds us that the most privileged migrants are not necessarily the most ‘skilled’ at connecting with difference. This is a major and highly innovative contribution to our understanding of contemporary forms of migration.”

— Vered Amit, Concordia University

“This is a terrific book by a pair of creative, smart, and thoughtful scholars who have a lot to say and a lot to show and tell. Through superb fieldwork, effective use of complementary data, clear prose, and evocative photographs, Knowles and Harper have created an extraordinarily rich account of how and where immigrant experiences intersect with Hong Kong social structure.”

— Jon Wagner, University of California, Davis

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Acknowledgments

Prologue

- Caroline Knowles, Douglas Harper
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226448589.003.0001
[migration, Hong Kong, international airport, fast trains, high-rise buildings, Kowloon Peninsula, transport]
This chapter discusses migration and arrival in Hong Kong. Reaching Hong Kong involves descending into Chek Lap Kok International Airport on the western island of Lantau in the South China Sea. Walking through connecting tubes, the new arrivee will enter a magnificent vaulted cathedral of white tubular steel, designed by world-renowned architect Norman Foster. Hong Kong's beautiful new airport signaled more than a change of regime. A fast train from the air terminal building transports arriving passengers through city fractals of high-rise buildings. These form vertical cities in which lives unfurl in multiple sky capsules. In thirty minutes the new arrival would standing at the tip of the Kowloon Peninsula—geographically part of mainland China—dazzled by the jumble of neon lights in Cantonese and English: the mix of imposing department stores and tiny market stalls selling food and other small items around Nathan Road. (pages xiv - 35)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Caroline Knowles, Douglas Harper
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226448589.003.0002
[migration, Hong Kong, British migrants, Kowloon Peninsula, apartment, accommodation, relocation, families]
This chapter focuses on migration to Hong Kong and beginning a new life. It describes the Trent family, Peter and Mary, and their two children who arrived in Hong Kong from the Midlands, Britain, to start their new life. The situation with the Trent family exemplifies how migration works in different ways in the lives of family members: producing different versions of the future. The Trent family and their friends offer a guide through a key theme in migrant settlement: temporariness, which is further challenging because they are long-term settlers, which migration literature distinguishes scales of intention. Mary and Peter made a life for themselves in Hong Kong having an apartment on the Kowloon Peninsula, not far from the old airport, which came with employment. This became their neighborhood, although they moved about within it, as accommodation was constantly reallocated. (pages 36 - 61)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Caroline Knowles, Douglas Harper
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226448589.003.0003
[English language, teaching, Hong Kong, British, business, education systems, competition, migration]
This chapter discusses the teaching of English language as a business. This business served British migrants for whom it provided an alternative to the uncomfortable proximities that might have been forged with the local Chinese population through their language. The English language business is not just about language, it is about the business of being English in migration. Being able to operate in English, not having to learn Cantonese is a privilege and a form of separation. English is rebranded as the language of international business success. It is now tied to Hong Kong's survival as a viable city of international commerce in competition with Beijing and Shanghai. The British education system in Hong Kong is instituted through the ESF and British-oriented International Schools. The system is as highly stratified as the Chinese system in which it sits. It differentiates among British and English-speaking migrants. (pages 62 - 77)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Caroline Knowles, Douglas Harper
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226448589.003.0004
[British migrants, Lamma, Hong Kong, migration, work, leisure, Chineseness]
This chapter describes British migrants John and Lyn staying in the island of Lamma, who are experienced migrants in the region. They are long-term residents, without plans to move on, who think of themselves as Hong Kong belongers. This is displayed in their relationships with other migrants, whom they think about in terms of length of stay and depth of familiarity with Hong Kong. This theme is also displayed in their troubled relationship with Britain, which they rule out as a place of return. Being an old China hand involves a level of competence in managing life locally. John and Lyn's version of migration lifestyle involves a different configuration of work and leisure. Their relationship with Chineseness reveals a different approach to living locally, and a particular version of Chineseness. (pages 78 - 99)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Caroline Knowles, Douglas Harper
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226448589.003.0005
[migrants, working life, job, employment, global corporate enterprise, expatriate, corporate wife]
This chapter explores the working life of migrants in Hong Kong and describes the lives of American Chuck and his British wife Amanda. The economic motor of corporate life has been running a little slowly since the 1997 downturn in the Asia Pacific economies. But this does not impact on Chuck's life in any important sense. His job, pay, and social life and work conditions remain the same. It is life, if not business, as usual inside this mainstream sector of global corporate enterprise. It rides out just this kind of cyclical fluctuation. Chuck's conditions of employment are protected. Amanda's life is subtly different. She has had greater mobility and depth of expatriate experience in places with distinctive relationships to empire. Now a corporate wife in Hong Kong, she reconfigures her life as a corporate wife in the New York suburbs. (pages 100 - 131)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Caroline Knowles, Douglas Harper
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226448589.003.0006
[tours, Hong Kong, mountains, travel, Peak, tram, tourists, elevation]
This chapter describes touring Hong Kong and its social geography and specifically the precipitous green mountain called the Peak. The best way to scale the Peak is on the Peak Tram furnicular favored by tourists. It will whisk the person rapidly above the building level of the island, and then over a dense tangle of tropical trees and shrubs to the landing station at its summit. There is a steeply winding road, traversed by buses, taxis, and cars, and there are several small pathways to walk on. But by whatever means the Peak is tackled, it is a long climb to the top. The social topography of Hong Kong once clearly revolved around land elevation. People were distributed over the Peak, Midlevels, and the shoreline, where some lived with the sea, sometimes on Sampans. (pages 132 - 153)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Caroline Knowles, Douglas Harper
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226448589.003.0007
[serving-class migrants, maids, waiters, migration, Hong Kong, domestic helpers, income, women migrants]
This chapter focuses on serving-class migrants. Maids provide a clearer case of serving-class migration than waiters. Service is deeply entangled in their lives. It defines their entry conditions and the terms of their settlement. It defines the social architecture in which they operate. In the official immigration and labor policies of the SAR government they are refereed to as “domestic helpers.” Domestic helpers in Hong Kong live within diverse social and material circumstances. The government-established income threshold required to allow households to employ foreign domestic labor is KH$15,000. Foreign domestic workers are now predominantly women migrants from the Philippines. They are also the most highly politically organized. Their popularity, from 1970, was fuelled by their ability to operate in English, as a result of a long-standing subordinate relationship with the United States. (pages 154 - 177)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Caroline Knowles, Douglas Harper
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226448589.003.0008
[night life, Hong Kong, Wanchai, offices, bars, working girls, waiters, young women, working conditions]
This chapter describes night life in Hong Kong and specifically in Wanchai. Wanchai during the day and at night are two different places. The transitional parts of the day, the twilight of sunrise and of sunset, most starkly expose Wanchai's temporal rhythms. At dusk the offices empty, and the day shift scurries home. Another set of businesses—bars and other places that are not open in the daytime—light up and add to the glow of the night. A new set of workers arrive for the night shift. Among the waiters and barmen, beautiful young women arrive to dance on bars in exotic underwear and serve drinks, or simply to encourage men to dance and buy drinks. Older, more ferocious-looking women perch on stools outside the bars. They direct the flow of customers in and out, sorting out troublemakers and generally protecting the girls' working conditions. (pages 178 - 195)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Caroline Knowles, Douglas Harper
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226448589.003.0009
[clubbing, Hong Kong, social clubs, recreational facilities, dining, intellectual activities, club fees, club members]
This chapter focuses on clubbing in Hong Kong. There are forty-two private social clubs in Hong Kong offering special interests, dining, and recreational facilities. They offer (selectively) communal indoor and outdoor space in a place where these are limited and expensive. Special interests include sports such as golf, sailing, football, rugby, cricket, field hockey, and horse racing. They include cultural/intellectual activities such as the Helena May. They provide an occupational focus such as the Foreign Correspondents Club. They vary in fees, accessibility, and niche within the bigger system of social differentiation that is Hong Kong. At the upper end of the hierarchy the (Royal) Hong Kong Jockey Club only accepts new members with an endorsement from two of its two hundred voting members. (pages 196 - 215)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Caroline Knowles, Douglas Harper
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226448589.003.0010
[patrol, New Territories, Hong Kong, police, British officer, British colonies, borders, migration]
This chapter describes the patrolling of the New Territories in the low, hilly green spaces that join the border with mainland China. Patrol is part of the constitution of space as territory. These are routine strategies in military occupation and routine policing. Patrol is a tactic serving all regimes and the forces that seek to undermine them. The chapter focuses on Bill who patrols the New Territories as a British officer in the colonial Hong Kong police force. The best way to understand Bill's activities is to go with him on patrol. His patrolling activities are on a landscape defined through memory, as Bill's patrols were part of his job as a colonial police officer in the 1970s. Bill see things in macroterms, pointing to great tracts of land and discussing population movements, across borders, and internally, as the population grows through migration and the government struggles to house it. (pages 216 - 225)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Caroline Knowles, Douglas Harper
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226448589.003.0011
[migration, globalization, mobility, migrants, citizenship, everyday life, lifestyles]
This chapter focuses on migration and globalization. Migration's social significance exceeds its composition in terms of globalization. In a world on the move it is not enough to know that people move from place to place generating new activities and connections. It is important to know how people live these routines of long- and short-term mobility, and the tours have shed light on these issues. The migrants showed their worlds and the skill it takes to live in them. The tour provided close-up portraits of migrant lives, concerns, calculations, movements, and opportunities while they were looking after pets, buying food, cleaning the kitchen, dancing, or trading US dollars, tape recorders, and manicures. The first are social conditions in migrants' countries of origin or citizenship. The macrocircumstances shaping the lifestyles of migrants reverberate in fine distinctions. (pages 226 - 241)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Caroline Knowles, Douglas Harper
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226448589.003.0012
[repatriation, British migrants, English village, ethnicity, colonialism, Hong Kong]
This chapter explores repatriated British migrants and the effect of their migrant lives in the context of an English village. It discusses how they play locally and the difference they make. Closer examination of village bodies and their social alchemy reveals people that may not have been noticed. Ethnicity is silently present here and unannounced forms of whiteness were forged in intimate proximity with the subjects and practices of colonial governance. The English village, on the surface the most parochial of places, with its yeoman resonance and feudal theocratic accents, is actually created in intimate association with distant places. The village is just on the road from anywhere in the world. The chapter describes Joyce and memories of her life in Hong Kong and her return to Devonshire. (pages 242 - 254)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

Notes

Bibliography

Index