Hong Kong, 1982.
29.75 x 19.75 in (75.565 x 50.165 cm)
An amusing 1982 pictorial map of Hong Kong by local illustrator and historian Tom Briggs. It highlights the cosmopolitan nature of 'old Hong Kong,' while also, perhaps self-consciously, revealing the chasm between the British elite and the local Chinese who made up most of the city's population.
A Closer LookThe map is oriented towards the south (for the benefit of Australian readers, according to the compass rose), with Kowloon in the foreground and Hong Kong Island in the background. Local businesses, government buildings, rail and ferry stations, and various attractions are advertised. Distinctive local sites and traditions are also emphasized, such as the Star Ferry between Hong Kong Island and Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon, the noonday gun, the peak tram, the Cross-Harbour Tunnel (opened a decade earlier), various institutions of British imperial power, and the old Kai Tak Airport, famous for the close approaches of jetliners to the high-rise apartments of Kowloon.
Seemingly with a wink from its author, the map gives a very selective view of Hong Kong, focusing on banks, tailors, bars, night clubs (with many topless women), travel agencies, the Happy Valley Racecourse, restaurants, and other leisure activities. Most of the figures appear to be British or otherwise foreign and male, reflecting the interests of the intended audience.
British or Chinese?Acerbic allusions made to Britain's eleventh-hour efforts to reform Hong Kong's imperial administration, such as the visiting delegation from the 'mother of Parliaments' at bottom left. Briggs also informs the viewer to buy the poster now, as 'it may be smaller after 1997.' This comment reveals anxiety over the return of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty, which was a major issue in British-Chinese relations at the time, culminating in Margaret Thatcher's visit to China in 1982 and the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984. Though they were ceded at the point of a gun, Hong Kong Island and Kowloon were indisputably British territory under international law; however, the New Territories had originally been leased in 1898 for 99 years, meaning that 1997 was a 'deadline' for those territories to return to Chinese sovereignty. The People's Republic, however, demanded that a plan to return Hong Kong and Kowloon also be developed as a precondition for allowing British firms market access in mainland China. The handover was made more palatable to the British with the promise that Hong Kong's system of law, laissez-faire capitalism, and civil liberties would not be immediately altered, and that local Hong Kongers would govern the territory as a 'special administrative region' within the P.R.C., under an arrangement known as 'one country, two systems.'
The recent opening of China is also referenced at bottom-right, where readers are enjoined to 'see the real China' by taking the Central Kingdom Express, a service that allowed linkages through to Europe; such a journey would have been nearly impossible a decade prior. Related political tensions in the city are alluded to, such as the Brit who proudly claims to own a piece of the most expensive land in the world and is denounced by a local Communist sympathizer as a 'capitalist landlord pig,' an echo of the spillover from China's Cultural Revolution (1966 - 1976) and entrenched racial wealth disparities that had led to upheaval in the colony in prior years. Briggs even has fun with the lauded local court system, with a judge noting that 'the verdict hardly matters by the time you've paid for your defence.'
Publication History and CensusThis map was drawn by Tom Briggs and colleagues at the Great Wall Poster Company in 1981, for publication and distribution in 1982. It is quite rare. We are not aware of its existence in any institutional collections, and it has only been on the market once in recent years.
Tom L. Briggs (fl. 1968 - 1980) was an artist based in Hong Kong in the 1970s and 80s. He was the principal art teacher at King George V School. He produced a book with Colin Crisswell entitled Hong Kong: The Vanishing City, in 1977. More by this mapmaker...