A who's who of Hong Kong

Sunday, February 12, 2012

HONG Kong has for many years been short of a reference work about the men and women who have shaped the cosmopolitan city.

Since 2004, a project involving about 90 contributors academics, journalists and other experts has finally produced Dictionary of Hong Kong Biography, an illustrated volume collecting a cross-section of personalities spanning Hong Kong's history.

With more than 500 entries, the dictionary is a kaleidoscope through which Hong Kong's different faces over several centuries are revealed. Elizabeth Sinn, chair of the dictionary's editorial board, says it is designed to inform, inspire and entertain readers.

Editors May Holdsworth and Christopher Munn outlined two essential conditions for inclusion in the book: First, the person should have a physical presence in Hong Kong; second, he or she would not be alive at the time of publication.

The final cast of characters comes from diverse cultural backgrounds and different walks of life. The well-known are represented governors, admirals, film stars, writers, revolutionaries and even gangsters.

But there are also long-forgotten movers and shakers of their day and ordinary people who illustrate some aspect of Hong Kong's history.

Few, for instance, may now remember David MacDougall, who was in charge of the civil government in Hong Kong after World War II. He not only took charge of the government's successful reconstruction efforts but also ensured racist and segregationist policies in place before the War were finally removed.

An example of an ordinary person who did well in the early years of colonial Hong Kong is Ng Akew, a woman from humble origins who created a successful life for herself despite many obstacles.

A large number of the entries are of Chinese people, who have always formed the majority of Hong Kong's population. Many others are about British people, who governed the city for more than 150 years, from 1841 to 1997.

Still others are about people from other parts of the world, reflecting the city's cosmopolitan character and its function as a port city.

The earliest entry is of a Buddhist, who is believed to have stayed in the Hong Kong area in the 5th century. The most recent is a politician who died in 2011.

"Working on the dictionary, we were reminded of how intertwined Hong Kong always was with political events on the Chinese mainland," editor Holdsworth says in an e-mail interview.

She explains the colony was a haven for anti-Qing revolutionaries like Sun Yat-sen and Chen Shaobai, and for activists like Liao Chengzhi and Israel Epstein, who were involved in Soong Ching-ling's war relief organisation in Hong Kong in the late 1930s.China Daily/ANN


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