chapter  1
17 Pages

Eurasians in treaty-port China: journeys across racial and imperial frontiers


Eurasians are one of the forgotten legacies of the Euro-American colonial project in China’s treaty ports. Between the 1830s and the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, people of mixed European and Chinese parentage – or ‘Eurasians’ in treaty-port parlance – were a constitutive part of the communities born out of contact between China and the West in these coastal enclaves. In the new society created after 1949, however, connections to the reviled imperialist past were dangerous, especially those that ran as deep as blood ties. People who had once asserted a ‘mixed’ or entirely European identity now strove to become Chinese. European and American ancestors, whose existence had once been exhibited as proof of entitlement to foreign passports and extraterritorial protection, were now quietly and deliberately forgotten. 1 As Maoist China withdrew from the outside world, Eurasians who had previously drawn upon multinational affiliations and adeptness at cultural crossing in order to make international journeys were either forced to leave or immobilised. 2 By contrast, in the former Crown colony of Hong Kong after 1949, Eurasians came to symbolise the harmonious marriage of British and Chinese characteristics that gave the territory its distinct flavour and thus strengthened its position as a refuge from, a bulwark against and an ideological counterpoint to the mainland. Prominent Eurasian families, such as the Ho Tungs and Kotewalls, were celebrated for their part in building the colony, while Eurasian life writing flourished. 3 Furthermore, Hong Kong’s role as a vital conduit between China and the outside world after 1949 meant that well-connected Eurasians, who were embedded in international family, educational and business networks, had ample opportunity to be mobile.