Was Japan behind a mysterious bid to buy Macau outright?
In the 1930s, Western newspapers were in the habit of portraying Macau as a haven of pirates, scoundrels and ne’er-do-wells, gambling the days away and smoking opium by night. Maurice Dekobra, a bestselling French writer of the inter­war years, had a hit with his 1938 novel, Macao, enfer du jeu (Macao, Gambling Hell), which became an equally sensationalist film. Lacking Peking’s bohemianism, Shanghai’s modernity or Hong Kong’s dynamism, Macau sat in the South China Sea, fanning itself in the heat, a decaying relic of the diminished Portuguese empire. The economy was hurting thanks to the British Royal Navy’s suppression of piracy and smuggling. Officially, it was good news, but not for Maca
How lions became an important symbol in Chinese culture
On New Year’s Day, two bronze lions in front of HSBC headquarters in Hong Kong were sprayed with red paint and set ablaze by anti-government protesters furious at the bank for closing the Spark Alliance account, which reportedly raised funds for the protests.  The lions, which have guarded HSBC for almost 85 years, are currently covered as restoration takes place. Perhaps the European managers of The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation took a leaf from Chinese architectural tradition when they commissioned the guardian lions in the early 20th century.  Many Chinese-owned buildings, modern and classical, feature stylized lions, one male and one female, at their main entrances. But how d
To win over Hong Kong and Taiwan, Xi Jinping must break a 2,000-year tradition
China’s “one country, two systems” formula in Hong Kong is failing miserably. After more than six months of large-scale pro-democracy protests – including violent clashes with police – the city’s voters dealt a powerful blow in November to pro-mainland parties, which lost 87% of seats to pro-democracy rivals in district council elections.  The significance of that election should not be underestimated. While district councils have little power, they select some of the 1,200 electors who choose Hong Kong’s chief executive. In the next election, pro-democracy parties will fill nearly 10% of those seats. The election also had important symbolic implications. District councils are elected in a
Tracking down my secret grandmother in a Chinese city with a Russian past
Harbin, in China’s far northeast, owes its modern beginnings entirely to a railway. For the first three decades of the 20th century, it was effectively a Russian city. It is a place that has sparked my curiosity ever since I came across a 1927 ship’s passenger list that revealed the name of my grandfather Frank Newman’s “second wife”: Nina Kovaleva, 25, born in Sevastopol, Russia. He would leave his Shanghai-based family with her in the early 1930s. The list also named a daughter, Kyra, aged five, born in Harbin. It was a stunning revela­tion. It implied that my grandfather, an inspector for the Harbin postal sub­district from about 1912, had led a double life for at least a decade. I conta
How Nepalese Gurkhas helped put down the 1960s riots in Hong Kong
This article is an edited excerpt from the book Gurkha Oddysey: Campaigning for the Crown by Peter Duffell. We had our first taste of impending troubles in Hong Kong caused by the Cultural Revolution during the Easter holiday of 1966.  On April 6 in the late afternoon, we had returned to Queen’s Hill [a barracks located in the northern part of Hong Kong] from a battalion-command-post exercise testing our vehicle-mounted radio systems. We were looking forward to the Easter break. We picked up some news of rioting in Kowloon and decided that we would leave the radios mounted in the vehicles in case a call came. At 1am that call did indeed come.  Without warning, we were rudely awakened by the
Casino king returns looted bronze horse head to China
The Chinese internet is celebrating the return of another bronze animal head looted from Beijing by French and British troops nearly 160 years ago.  The horse head, one of a 12-piece set of bronze animal heads representing the Chinese zodiac, was stolen from the Old Summer Palace in 1860, when Anglo-French troops invaded China.  On Wednesday, the sculpture was donated to the Chinese government by Macau’s casino king Stanley Ho, who bought the artifact for $8.9 million in 2007.  The Communist Party has portrayed the stolen animal heads as symbols of the nation’s “century of humiliation,” which began in the mid-19th century and ended with the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. During
A look at Hong Kong’s ‘ding ding’ tram
Hong Kong’s iconic “ding ding” trams, named for the sounds they make, have trundled through the streets since 1904. The 115-year-old system is a living symbol of the city’s rich history. In these pictures from the South China Morning Post’s archives, we look at how both the trams and everything around them have changed over the decades.
Chinese professor suspended for dismissing ancient inventions
For decades, Chinese students have been taught that papermaking, printing, gunpowder and the compass – called the four great inventions – were evidence of China’s ancient contributions to the world.  But, according to news reports, a college professor in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu didn’t agree, saying the inventions had “little substance” in an online discussion with students.  Now the engineering professor, Zheng Wenfeng, has been suspended from teaching for two years, according to a statement from the University of Electronic Science and Technology carried by multiple media reports.  “This is 2019. Let’s stop regurgitating historical pride hyped up by our ancestors,” Zheng s
This is the patron saint of gangsters and police
Hong Kong has a varied cast of ancient deities.  But there is one god so popular that both police and gangsters worship him: Duke Guan, also known as Emperor Guan. He is based on a historical figure, named Guan Yu. Duke Guan features prominently in Hong Kong popular culture, from the famous Young and Dangerous film series to TV dramas. Shrines to Duke Guan are commonly found in restaurants, shops, police stations and even thieves’ lairs. There are also numerous martial temples and shrines dedicated to the deity in Hong Kong, as well as across mainland China, Macau, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.  The New Territories, an area in Hong Kong, alone has 13 temples dedicated to Duke Guan, compare