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Bulletin of the European Association of Sinological Librarians

BEASL Number 10


by Sue Swee Chin Small

(School of Oriental and African Studies, London)


Hong Kong is situated on the southernmost tip of China and consists of Hong Kong Island, the Kowloon Peninsula, the New Territories, and some 235 offshore islands. It is pertinent and timely to recall exactly how Britain came to have an interest in Hong Kong.

In the 19th century, British demand for Chinese silk, tea and ceramic products, etc. created a trade imbalance in China's favour. The smuggling into China of opium grown as a cash crop in India resulted in the net outflow of Chinese wealth and restored the trade balance in Britain's favour.

The Chinese authorities, concerned at the deleterious effect of opium smoking on the health of its citizens and on the economy of China, ordered the British to desist from opium trading and to surrender stocks of the drug held in their Canton stores. This dispute led to the first Opium War (1840-42); the superior military technology available to the British resulted in a settlement to the disadvantage of the Chinese. Under the 1842 Treaty of Nanking, the Chinese were forced to cede Hong Kong island to the British, who now had a secure base from which to conduct trade in opium and other commodities.

Kowloon was occupied in 1860 during the second Opium War because of its strategic importance - if Chinese guns were placed in Kowloon then shipping in Hong Kong's fine natural harbour would be in range. The Chinese were forced to cede territory under the Convention of Peking. The New Territories were leased from China for 99 years in 1898 and acted as a buffer zone between the south of China and foreign controlled Hong Kong.

When Britain took over Hong Kong in 1842, there were fewer than 8000 people living on Hong Kong Island. By 1876, the population had increased to over 139,000. Since the Second World War, the population has risen even more dramatically, from about one million in 1946 to over 6.3 million in 1996. Although Hong Kong was first developed as an entrepot port and naval base, in recent decades it has established itself as one of the most important international manufacturing and financial centres in the world.

On 1st July, 1997 Hong Kong ceased to be a British Crown colony and became known as the People's Republic of China's Special Administrative Region. This transfer of power followed the implementation of the terms and provisions of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong.

Strong interest in Hong Kong material

The 1997 transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong to China has stimulated considerable interest. The SOAS library has added over twenty recently published titles about Hong Kong to its stock in recent months. Good use of the Hong Kong collection is being made by journalists writing about the success of Chinese entrepreneurs in the Special Administrative Region, and by former British colonial administrators in Hong Kong preparing their memoirs. Television researchers and journalists involved in producing documentaries about Hong Kong have been frequent visitors to the Library in recent years. Journalists from a wide range of newspapers writing about the transfer of sovereignty have made heavy use of SOAS.

SOAS Centre of Chinese Studies

SOAS is an institution whose staff and post-graduate students have a considerable range of expertise relating to Hong Kong. The SOAS Centre of Chinese Studies organises a number of regular inter-disciplinary seminars, monthly Tripartite seminars, and special events each year on subjects of interest to students of Hong Kong. The expertise of the Centre's staff and students include Cantonese language, Hong Kong anthropology, politics, economics, law, literature, history, geography, art, archaeology, music, land use, transport, and environmental studies etc.

Hong Kong Collection in SOAS

SOAS occupies a key position among European institutions involved in Chinese studies. The Library has some 3,000 published books and pamphlets on all aspects of Hong Kong. In addition, the Library has a significant Hong Kong map collection, plus journals and newspapers important to students of Hong Kong affairs.

The Library's Archive Section has a strong collection of records relating to the commercial history of Hong Kong. These records include the extensive collection of business papers of Sir Charles Stewart Addis (1861-1945) and the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, 1883-1945. Also available are the papers of John Swire and Sons, and the papers of the China Association, a body concerned with representing commercial organisations involved with Chinese, Hong Kong and Japan trade.

The bulk of the Hong Kong collection is housed on open access shelves. The collection includes titles on the bibliography, religion, sociology, economics, government, public health, education, commerce, geography and history of Hong Kong. In addition, there are a limited number of titles on such additional matters as the geology, flora and fauna, postal history, medicine, land use, sport and literature of Hong Kong.

The majority of books in the Hong Kong collection are written in English, with just a few titles in other Western languages. Chinese language books on Hong Kong are not shelved with the Western language material on the Territory, but are integrated with the main body of books written in Chinese.

The collection includes important Hong Kong Government serial publications. For example, there is a run of Hong Kong Annual Reports, and the Hong Kong Yearbook, as well as printed Administrative Reports from 1909 to 1939. Periodicals held by SOAS relevant to Hong Kong studies include titles such as the Asian Wall Street Journal and the Far Eastern Economic Review. The Chinese language Jingji daobao ¾­¼Ăµ¼±¨ ¾­¼Ãµ¼±¨, Jiushi niandai ¾ÅÊ®Äê´ú, Zhengming ÕùÃù, Mingbao Ã÷±¨, Nanbeiji Äϱ±¼« and Guangjiaojing ¹ã½Ç¾µ are also stocked.

SOAS has a good basic collection of documentation relating to the law of Hong Kong. However, the University of London's Institute of Advanced Legal Studies has primary responsibility in the UK at research level for Hong Kong legal material. This Institute is open to all SOAS postgraduates law students and teachers.

The Library's Map Section holds about 800 sheets of maps and standard gazetteers relating to Hong Kong. There are thematic maps covering topics such as economics, land use, navigation, population, recreation, religion and communications, etc. Included in the collection are important early maps of considerable historical interest, such as large scale maps showing property owned by certain Christian missionary organisations.

Some 200 volumes of books on the art and archaeology of Hong Kong are held by SOAS Library. However, these books are integrated with others on these subjects in the Art and Archaeology Section.

Prior to the July 1997 handover of Hong Kong to Chinese control, the Chinese Department of the British Library received Chinese language publications from Hong Kong under the British copyright and deposit laws. SOAS Library has not actively collected Chinese language books published in Hong Kong because this material is available in the British Library.

Gifts from Hong Kong Government Office Library

SOAS recently received a donation of 848 books and pamphlets from the Hong Kong Government Office Library in London. This donation has added significantly to the breadth and depth of existing SOAS resources relating to Hong Kong. Miss Ursula Price, Librarian at the Hong Kong Government Office, from 1975 to 1996 when she retired, built up this large collection of books about Hong Kong, from a small nucleus library started in the 1950s. This collection of documentation about Hong Kong is one of the largest held outside of the Special Administrative Area itself. In addition, some 200 books from the private book collections of London based Hong Kong civil servants have been donated to the Library.

Also included in the Hong Kong Government's Office donation is a collection of newspaper clippings covering the years 1975 to 1992. These contain some 228,000 pages of well organised and indexed clippings under 566 separate subject headings. These clippings were systematically collected and organised by Miss Price. This press clippings collection has been widely used by researchers from the media, business, professional organisations and by academics. They are an important addition to SOAS' resources relating to Hong Kong.

Other London libraries and records centres with Hong Kong resources

Scholars studying Hong Kong in the future must, by necessity, use the libraries and records offices of the former colonial power. SOAS, with its valuable collection of documentation on Hong Kong, occupies a central position in a London based information "network" of importance to students the Special Administrative Area.

The Public Records Office, the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office Library (formerly Hong Komg Government Office Library), the British Library Official Publications and Social Sciences Service, the Oriental & India Office Collections of the British Library, and the British Library's Newspaper Library all stock documentation of interest to the Hong Kong specialist. In addition, the University of London's Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and London School of Economics both have significant collections of resources relevant to Hong Kong studies.

Hong Kong studies in the post-colonial period

The SOAS collection of documentation on Hong Kong is Eurocentric, reflecting the colonial status of the area prior to the 1st July, 1997 handover of sovereignty. Most of the available documentation about Hong Kong has been written from the perspective of the colonial administrator and the outsider.

The economic importance of Hong Kong will ensure a continuing high level of interest in this Special Administrative Area of China. Hong Kong studies will no doubt grow in the future, with both Chinese and Western authors contributing to a literature which will re-assess all aspects of the colonial era from a less Eurocentric perspective. The task of SOAS Library will be to collect this new more "Asian-centric" documentation as it is produced and to acquire a comprehensive range of the publishing output of the Special Administrative Area for use by future generations of scholars.


1. SOAS Library guides, 1980-1996 2. SOAS Library annual report: China Section, 1990-1996 3. Hong Kong (yearbook),1990-1996, Hong Kong Government Information Service 4. Hong Kong by The Catholic Institute for International relations, 1990 5. Centre of Chinese Studies, London: School of Oriental and African Studies, 1993 6 . Xianggang shi dian, editor in chief: Zhuang Yixun, Shanghai kexue puji chubanshe, 1994 (Ïã¸Ûʵä, ׯÒåÑ· Ö÷±à, ÉϺ£¿ÆѧÆÕ¼°³ö°æÉç, 1994) 7. Xianggang da cidian (Dictionary of Hong Kong), editor: Cao Chunliang, Guangzhou chubanshe, 1994 (Ïã¸Û´ó´Çµä, ²Ü´¾ÁÁ ±à, ¹ãÖݳö°æÉç, 1994) 8. Yapian zhanzheng dang’an shiliao, (5v), by Zhongguo diyi lishi dang’anguan. Tianjin guji chubanshe, 1992 (Ñ»ÆÕ½Õùµµ°¸Ê·ÁÏ, ÖйúµÚÒ»ÀúÊ·µµ°¸¹Ý±à, Ìì½ò¹Å¼®³ö°æÉç, 1992)

The SOAS Library can be accessed by the following addresses:



Sue Swee Chin Small, China Librarian, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H OXG. UK

Tel: +0171-323 6111 Fax: +0171-636 2834 Email:


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Matthias Kaun

established 1995