Research Projects

Maritime Trade between Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, 1842 – 1939

(Funded under General Research Fund Scheme 2009 – 10 Exercise, Research Grants Council, Hong Kong)

Principal Investigator

James Kong Chin, Honorary Research Associate, Research Assistant Professor, Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences
(Remarks: Dr. James Kong Chin left the University’s service from January 1, 2014.)

Total Fund Awarded

HKD 522,500

Project Duration

December 2009 – November 2012

Project Description

The birth of Hong Kong as a British colony was closely related to its maritime trade with both Mainland China and other parts of the world. Shortly after the British established themselves on the southern shore of Hong Kong Island in 1841, the colonial harbour office was moved from Macao to Hong Kong with the aim to both facilitate and monitor the shipping and maritime trade of the colony. Since then, Hong Kong’s maritime trade has developed rapidly, and each year in the late 19th and early 20th centuries a huge quantity of staple commodities such as rice, coal, timber, cotton and other tropical products were shipped into different ports of Hong Kong by several hundred of vessels, ships and junks. In the meantime, commodities imported from Mainland China and Japan were re-exported to marketplaces of Southeast Asia and other international markets. With the expansion of export trade, a number of influential business families and firms specialised in import and export trade came into being, followed by the formation of different merchant associations. Business collaborations and networks based on dialect groups and trades were gradually formed among Chinese traders based in various port cities of Asia. Such a historical topic is very important in terms of the better understanding of the evolution of Hong Kong’s economy.

This project aims to study Hong Kong’s maritime history before World War II. A number of key issues will be addressed, such as the rise of the development of maritime trade, Hong Kong’s role in the regional maritime system, the staple commodities, merchant groups and their associations, Chinese business networks and transnational entrepreneurship, as well as the early Chinese emigration via Hong Kong. One of the main purposes is to build a research database through a chronological search and systematic amassment of historical records and statistics on the shipping and maritime trade between Hong Kong and various port cities of Southeast Asia.

This study will shed light on the understanding of Hong Kong’s maritime trade with Southeast Asia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, providing insights into both the multiple roles played by Hong Kong in the regional maritime trade system and the Chinese business networks in the region by building up a research database on historical shipping and maritime trade that has never been done previously. Through an empirical study and theoretical analysis, it shall be able to illuminate further the dynamics and internal mechanism of Chinese businesses in Hong Kong and port cities of Southeast Asia.