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Europe in China
The History of Hong Kong from the beginning to the year 1882 by E J Eitel (1895)


TO Europeans residing in Hongkong or China, I need not offer any excuse for inviting them to take up this book. The natural desire to learn to understand the present by a consideration of the past, will plead with them better than I could do. But the general reader, in England and elsewhere, I entreat for a reconsideration of the popularly accepted view that but little importance, beyond that of a curio, attaches to Hongkong, its community and position, or indeed to European relations with China.

At first sight, indeed, the Colony of Hongkong appears like an odd conglomeration of fluctuating molecules of nationalities, whose successive Governors seem to be but extraneous factors adventitiously regulating or disturbing the heavings of this incongruous mass. But in reality the Hongkong community is solidarily one. Though an unbridged chasm does yawn in its midst, waiting for a Marcus Curtius to close it and meanwhile separating the outward social life of Europeans and Chinese, the people of Hongkong fire inwardly bound together by a steadily developing communion of interests and responsibilities: the destiny of the one race is to rule and the fate of the other to be ruled. The different periods of Hongkong’s history, though demarcated each by the administration of a different Governor, are in reality the successive stages of the growth of one ideal person (the Colony) naturally expanding itself in a continuous line of so many generations, as it were, of one and the same ideal family (the community). Looking deeper still, there is seen underlying this mixed and fluctuating population of Hongkong a self-perpetuating unity: the secret inchoative union of Europe and Asia (as represented by China). This union is in process of practical elaboration through the combined forces of .commerce, civilisation and Christian education, and particularly through the steady development of Great Britain’s political influence in the East, an influence which dates back to the earliest days of the East India Company in India and China. Indeed, the Anglo-Chinese community of Hongkong specifically represents that coming union of Europe and Asia which China stubbornly resists while Great Britain and Russia, France and Japan unconsciously co-operate towards it- As representing that union, the Hongkong community has its root in the earlier and smaller community of British and other European merchants with their Chinese hangers-on settled at the Canton Factories. But the earliest prototype can be discerned in the previous settlements of the Portuguese and Dutch and more particularly of the agents of the East-India Company who were unconsciously working out in China, as well as in India, the international problem with the solution of which Hongkong is specially concerned. When, under the impulse of the awakening free trade spirit in England, the East-India Company had to withdraw from the field (1834), the British free-traders at Canton continued to represent Europe in China, and, when driven out thence, transplanted to Hongkong (1841) those unifying commercial and political principles which; are to the present day the underlying elements progress in the historic evolution of Hongkong.

But as the history of the Hongkong community presents thus an unbroken chain of influences connecting the political mission of Europe with the present politics of Asia, so also the successive administrations of the government of this Colony have the same inner unity. Though each Governor is but a transient visitor, each possessed of his own idiosyncracies, and each controlled by an ever shifting series of Secretaries of State for the Colonies, behind them all is that ideal but none the less real entity, the genius of British public opinion, which inspires and overrules them all. That genius, feeling its mission in Europe and North America fulfilled, has of late commenced to enter upon a new field of action whereby to complete its destiny. Asia and generally the countries and continents bordering on the Pacific Ocean, now task the energies of Downing Street and of the Governors sent forth from it, as well as the energies of the India Office, with problems of such increasingly international bearings, that both the Colonial Office and the India Office are rapidly outstripping in importance the Foreign Office, and the necessities of both now demand the creation of a Ministry specially charged with the direction of British affairs in the Far East, The fact is. the fulcrum of the World's balance of power has shifted from the West to the East, from the Mediterranean to the Pacific.

To the popular view the position of Hongkong in the East appears to be that of a remote Island, a mere dot in a little-known ocean. In reality, however, Hongkong, which commercially ranks as the second port of the British Empire, occupies a geographically most fortunate place in relation to the peculiar destinies of the Far East. For the /last two thousand years, the march of civilization has been directed from the East to the West: Europe has been tutored by Asia. Ennobled by Christianity, civilization now returns to the East: Europe’s destiny is to govern Asia. Marching at the head of civilization, Great Britain has commenced her individual mission in Asia by the occupation of India and Burma, the Straits Settlements and Hongkong. By fifty years’ handling of HongkongV Chinese population, Great Britain has shewn how readily the Chinese people (apart from Mandarindom] fall in with a firm European regime, and the rapid conversion of a barren rock into one of the wonders and commercial emporiums of the warldj has demonstrated what Chinese labour, industry and commerce can achieve under British rule. 'Moreover, located on the western border of the Pacific, in line with Canada in the North-East, with Her Majesty’s Indian and African Possessions in the South-West, and with the Australian Colonies in the South, Hongkong occupies a specially important position, not only with regard to the problems gathering round China and Japan (in their mutual relations to Great Britain, Russia and Franee), but especially also with regard to the greater .role which the Pacific Ocean is destined to play in the closing scenes of the world’s history. What the Mediterranean and Atlantic were while civilization moved from East to West, the Pacific is bound to become now since the tide of progress runs from West to East. Africa is even now being brought into the sphere of.modern civilization by the combined powers of Europe. The turn of South-America will come next. There is not a first-class power in the world that has not possessions on the shores of the Pacific. Great Britain and the United States, Russia and Franee, Germany and Italy, Spain and Portugal, all vie with each other in the control of countries bordering on, or islands situated in, the Pacific basin. It requires no prophet’s gift to see that the politics of the near future centre in the East and that the problems of the Far East will be solved on the Pacific main. Contests will be sure to arise and in these contests Hongkong will be one of the stations most important for the general strength of the British Empife. Here, evefr more than in its bearing upon the Asiatic problem, lies the real importance of HongKbng Success the position of this Colony in relation to the destinies of the young Hongkong will yet have a prominent place in the future history of the' British Empire.

The foregoing consideratons will commend the subject of this book to the attention of the general reader. As to its treatment, the endeavour of the writer has been to combine with the aims of the historian, writing from the point of view of universal history, the duties of the chronicler of events such as are of special interest to European residents in the East,. so as to provide at the same“time~a handbook of reference for those who take an active interest in the current affairs of this British Colony as well as in British relations with China. This volume brings down the story of Hongkong’s rise and progress to the year 1882. The more recent epochs of its history are too near to our view yet to admit of impartial historic treatment for the present.

College Gardens,
Hongkong, August 2, 1895.

Editors Note:  As you work your way through this book you will see the prominent place Scots played in the formation of Hongkong and its development.

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