I. Introduction

The study of networks is crucial to understanding human experiences. In the late 19th and early 20th century Hong Kong, the Chinese and Eurasian elites, along with the colonial officials and foreign merchants, had formed interconnected networks among themselves and within the colonial bureaucracy through marriages, shared common institutions (including alumni networks), and political and commercial connections. By studying and visualizing the networks of these bureaucratic actors, we gain insights into their lives and institutional experiences, as well as the form of collaboration and the malleable nature of colonialism in early Hong Kong on a micro-historical level. As to visualize the networks, I have formed a Digital Humanities project through this digital platform and the utilization of network modelling tools.

This Digital Humanities project is utilized to support Chapter 3 of my M.A. Thesis – The Expanded Networks and the Local Elites.

The Background Story

To begin, I have chosen the travelling story of Captain Walter Bosman and his welcoming banquet in Hong Kong as my entry point into studying the networks. In 1937, Captain Bosman (also known as Ho Yau-kai; 1867-1946), a colonial official in South Africa, decided to travel back to his hometown – Hong Kong – after fifty-four years since his first departure of subsequence in receiving a letter from his biological brother, Robert Ho Tung. Along with his wife Louise Bosman, her maid and a German chauffeur, they first sailed from South Africa to London and then to Paris. Bosman and his companies then travelled more than 18,200 miles by an auto-car. From Paris, they drove east to Nazi Germany, and Poland, then directly south to cross the Danube River and enter Romania and to the Balkans, where they continued to drive eastward across Turkey, the Kingdom of Iraq, Persia (nowadays Iran), and eventually arrived Bombay in India on the 23rd December 1937. The party of four then boarded the TSS Conte Viancalano, an ocean liner that took them to their destination directly to avoid crossing the snow-bound Himalayas overland. In early January 1938, they eventually arrived at Bosman’s hometown, Hong Kong.

On the 14th of February 1938, a month after Bosman’s arrival, fifteen former pupils of the Government Central School (1862-1889; now the Queen’s College) in Hong Kong, ranging in age from sixty-three to eighty years, hosted a welcoming banquet in honour of the return of Bosman at the Kwong Chow Restaurant in West Point. Almost fifty years have passed since they were schoolboys, and on that special night, they reminisced about their boyhood friendships by recalling their childhood memories over tea and gourmet cuisine. Mr. Frank White proposed the health of Bosman, who suitably replied and exclaimed that the colony has almost entirely transformed, but it was a pleasure for him to realize his former schoolmates were still strong. They were strong not only in their bodies but also in their backgrounds. These attendees of the gathering were either Chinese or Eurasian (people with both Chinese and European ancestry) elites in the colony.

Interestingly, these elite alumni – in these fifty years – have formed interconnected networks among themselves - as well as their families - and within the colonial bureaucracy through marriages, shared common institutions, and business and political connections. After tracing their connections, their networks involved approximately 140 individuals. They became elites and formed such interconnected networks due to the Central School and the secular education that they received there. The school became the source of empowerment for young men as it taught both Chinese and English to the students so that they could become civil servants or business middlemen (compradores) within the colonial bureaucracy once they graduated.

Networking was important for them to strengthen their statuses, influences, or any social benefits that they could have acquired through mutual networks, particularly after they have accumulated wealth and earned high social status in the colony. Significantly, such intricated networks allowed these elites to differentiate themselves from ordinary Chinese and European colonial officials based on similar backgrounds. The networks also contributed to the structure of an amalgamative mentality – in which these elites expressed an opportunistic loyalty towards the British Empire while being loyal to the Chinese regimes simultaneously. This conflicted mentality allowed these elites to travel between the edges of the two empires and put a distinctive stamp on the bureaucratic culture of early colonial Hong Kong.

II. The Rhumbl Network Graph

I have created a network graph using Rhumbl to visualize the networks. It is available online. Rhumbl is a newly developed online-based software that allows me to generate an accessible relationship chart by formatting the nodes (individuals) and edges (relationships between individuals) on an algorithm layout. Viewers are allowed to interact with this graph. This network graph includes 140 individuals that were correlated with the 16 attendees of the unique gathering in 1938. (Approximately 140 individuals were included at this stage to align with this Rhumbl network graph and my MA thesis. The investigation of the networks will expand in the future; therefore, more individuals will be added).

Due to technical limitations, it was not allowed to add a legend within the online network graph powered by Rhumbl. Please take reference to the legend on the right-hand side when you are viewing the graph.

Viewers of my graph are allowed to click on the nodes to view and identify various types of relationships between individuals. Please take reference to the legend for further information regarding the colours of the nodes and the edges.

Moreover, my graph allows the viewers to search for a specific person through their names or affiliations. It will then display precise biographical information about each individual, such as gender, affiliations, footnotes that clarify the relationships between individuals, and a bibliography for references. There is also a section that displays outgoing and incoming nodes of the person; this allows the viewers to observe the networks of the individual through a list other than simply visualization.

III. The Gephi’s Family Network Graph

To visualize the family network, in particular, I have created a family network graph through Gephi. Similar to Rhumbl, Gephi also generates nodes and edges to express connections. Each colour of the edges represents the cluster of each family based on immediate family relationships, including spouses, parents and children, and siblings. The individuals were selected based on the attendees of the 1938 gathering, whose nodes were highlighted red in the graph. Through the graph, we can see that the Eurasian families have formed a self-contained cluster apart from the Chinese elites. In other words, intermarriage occurred within the Eurasian circle.

IV. Methodology and Data Collection

To generate the graphs I have consulted various archival materials and secondary monographs. The Hong Kong sections within Asian Directories and Chronicles from 1872 to 1941 were consulted as they record lists of active companies and government departments as well as the staff lists. The juror lists were also consulted. These lists were examined year by year to trace the formation of the networks. Governmental documents including the Government Gazette and the Colonial Office correspondence collection (CO 129) were consulted to acquire systemic lists - including juror lists - of the individuals and other detailed information concerning the daily activities between the local elites and the colonial officials. The index cards held by the Carl Smith Collection were used to trace information about persons, organizations, etc. They provide valuable research guidelines for further inspection of the networks. To trace the alumni network, the school magazine of the Central School, The Yellow Dragon, was examined. Furthermore, family memoirs, private correspondence and personal papers were consulted for exclusive information regarding the elite alumni. After collecting all the data, a database of the local elites was formed. The data was then input into an excel file. Ultimately, the excel files were uploaded to Rhumbl and Gephi to generate the graphs.

V. Selected Bibliography for Data Collection

Archival Materials

Asian Directories and Chronicles - Hong Kong section (various years).

Carl Smith Collection.

Colonial Office correspondence collection (CO 129).

“Juror List,” Hong Kong Government Gazettee (various years).

South China Morning Post.

The National Library of Scotland (NLS), Paper of Sir James Haldane Stewart Lockhart, K.C.M.G. (1858-1947), P’ang Shau Chun, Hong Kong, to A Brewin, 16 September 1930.

The University of Otago Library Archive, Hocken Collections, MS870B.

The Yellow Dragon (various editions).

Secondary Sources

Hall, Peter. In the Web. Birkenhead: Appin Press, 2012.

He, Wen-xiang 何文翔. Xianggang Jiazushi 香港家族史 [Family histories of Hong Kong]. Hong Kong: Capital Communications Corporation, 1989.

Ho, Eric Peter. The Welfare League (Tong Ten Hui): The Sixty Years: 1930-1990. Hong Kong: Welfare League, 1990.

Ho, Eric Peter. Tracing my Children’s Lineage. Hong Kong: The Hong Kong University Press, 2010.

Holdsworth, May and Christopher Munn. Dictionary of Hong Kong Biography. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2012.

Stokes, John and Gwenneth. Queen’s College: Its History 1862-1987. Hong Kong: Queen’s College Old Boys’ Association, 1987.

Wong, Chun-wei 黃振威. Fanshu yu Huanglong: Xianggang Huangren Shuyuan Huaren jingying yu jindai Zhongguo 番書與黃龍: 香港皇仁書院華人精英與近代中國 [Foreign Books and Yellow Dragon: Chinese Elites of the Queen’s College in Hong Kong and Modern China]. Hong Kong: Chung Hwa Book, 2019.

Wright, Arnold and H.A Cartwright. Twentieth Century Impressions of Hong Kong, Shanghai, and other Treaty Ports of China: Their History, People, Commerce, Industries and Resources. London: Lloyds Greater Britain Publishing Co., 1908.

Zheng, Victor Wan-tai 鄭宏泰, and Siu-lung Wong 黃紹倫. Shangchengji: Xianggang Jiazu Qiye Zonghengtan 商城記:香港家族企業縱橫談 [The Business Tales: Discussion on the Family Businesses in Hong Kong]. Hong Kong: Chung Hwa, 2014.

Zheng, Victor Wan-tai 鄭宏泰, and Ko-ho 高皓, Baishouxingjia: Xianggang jiazu yu sheui 1841-1941 白手興家:香港家族與社會 1841-1941 [Rags-to-Riches: Family and Society in Hong Kong 1841-1941]. Hong Kong: Chung Hwa Book, 2016.

Online Sources

“Geni,” MyHeritage

“Hong Kong Government Reports Online (1842-1941),” The University of Hong Kong Libraries

“Old HK Newspapers,” Old HK Newspapers, Hong Kong Public Libraries Multimedia Information System


Email: ryankciu@student.ubc.ca