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Stamping ‘Imagination and Sensibility’: Objects, Culture, and Governance in Late Colonial Hong Kong

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This article examines how the Hong Kong government promoted and preserved Chinese culture through postage stamps and coins. It shows that colonial officials attempted to utilise these tangible forms of Chinese culture to win popular support from the 1960s on. This was an era when the British and colonial governments hoped to hold onto Hong Kong before discussing the colony’s future with Chinese leaders. Colonial officials thus attempted to secure public trust and improve the government’s image. This article analyses cultural policies of this era. It reveals how colonial administrators featured traditional Chinese culture in postage stamps and coins to showcase their ‘imagination and sensibility to what appeals to Hong Kong people’, a phrase used by Secretary for Chinese Affairs John Crichton McDouall in the 1960s. While previous studies have shown how colonial authorities utilised objects to reinforce imperial superiority and construct a sense of the Other, this article argues that political calculations made Hong Kong officials appear to respect how local people actually understood their culture. By cooperating with the Crown Agents and the Royal Mint, colonial administrators incorporated Chinese symbols in these everyday objects to demonstrate their care for the people’s culture.



Hong Kong, Chinese culture, colonialism, postage stamps, coins, gold sovereigns, Crown Agents, Royal Mint

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Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History

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Informa UK Limited
Postgraduate Scholarship, University of Hong Kong