This free online talk is hosted by the Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong.

Book cover image: Women, Crime and the Courts, Hong Kong 1841-1941While women were filling the magistrates courts and prisons of the British Isles during the 19th century, a female criminal in Hong Kong was a rarity. Yet, often in response to the privations of grinding poverty, some did find themselves on the wrong side of the law. Among the petty crimes that brought most of them to the dock were the more heinous ones, often with a Hong Kong flavour. Making use of what was to hand, arguments were conducted with the aid of meat choppers, and why stop at one or two chops, when 70 seems like such a nice round number?

The trade in children, especially young girls, was an easy and lucrative one for women to pursue, although deemed to be kidnapping by the courts and punished accordingly. However, it is in the small offences, those that attracted a fine perhaps of twenty cents, that we learn most about the everyday lives of the women in the city in these bygone years. Not that all the women in front of the magistrates were Chinese, by any means: certain Western women were quite capable of attracting notoriety and worse.

This talk will feature these women’s stories – both the dramatic and the more modest, including some that don’t appear in the book. It will recount, too, how the British justice system tried to cope with the challenges the situation presented, and life in the small Women’s Prison, where a minority of the defendants would ‘do time’.

Patricia O’Sullivan started researching Hong Kong’s vibrant history in 2010, initially uncovering long-forgotten family stories for Policing Hong Kong – an Irish History (Blacksmith Books, 2017). Based in the UK, but spending upwards of three months of the year in Hong Kong (until 2020!) she has written a number of articles on forgotten aspects of the city’s life. Women, Crime and the Courts: Hong Kong 1841-1941 was published by Blacksmith Books earlier this winter.

Time: 7pm-8pm Hong Kong time

Delivery: Online via Zoom

Admission: No charge. Please email in advance to register your attendance.