‘Empire’ Drifters
: The Macanese in British Hong Kong, 1841-1941

  • Catherine S Chan

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This thesis adopts the approach of ‘collective biography’ and follows the journey of Luso-Asian migrants, also known as Macanese, from Portuguese Macau to British Hong Kong in exploring a century of Macanese activity in colonial Hong Kong. It focuses on the transformations of the Macanese community and the diverse and creative ways middle-class Macanese individuals strove to recreate their social positions by merging aspects of Macau, Hong Kong, as well as selective ‘Portuguese’ and ‘British’ cultural markers. Through a series of individual Macanese narratives, this thesis reveals colonial Hong Kong as a transnational world of possibilities, manipulations, decisions and freedoms. The three themes that thread through this thesis, migration from one ‘empire’ to another, ‘race’ as a contested narrative and the colony as a ‘transnational’ arena aim to reveal the normative realities of colonial life as an experience beyond colonialism and reconsiders the use and manipulations of ‘race,’ ‘class’ and ‘identity’ as individual and communal responses to life challenges.

Chapter one examines connections between Macau and Hong Kong and considers the role of ‘class’ in establishing the social positions of the Macanese. Chapter two focuses on the experiences of Macanese individuals in the workplace and highlights the limitations of using ‘race’ to understand the restricted career advancement of Macanese men. The third chapter analyses associational life in Hong Kong, particularly emphasising how middle-class Macanese established themselves as respectable ‘bourgeois’ men in the setting of the colonial port-city. Chapter four explores the emergence of Hong Kong-born Anglophile Macanese individuals and examines the ways the Macanese used the English-language press and political roles to fight for the under-privileged in Hong Kong. The final chapter sheds light on the cultural nationalistic discourses that emerged in inter-war Hong Kong. Ultimately, this thesis seeks to address more overarching questions on the nature of human society, multicultural communities and global interconnectedness through the themes of continuity, collaboration, associational life, urbanism and print culture.
Date of Award1 Oct 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorRobert Bickers (Supervisor) & Su Lin Lewis (Supervisor)

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