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CollectionsHong Kong, Benevolent City: Tung Wah and the Growth of Chinese CommunitiesAbout the Collection

About the Collection

About the Collection  The Hong Kong Chinese Community in the Mid-19th Century  History of Tung Wah Services  Conservation and Transmission  Links  Acknowledgements 

The Tung Wah Group of Hospitals is Hong Kong’s longest standing, largest charitable organisation providing the needy with an array of diversified services. Tracing its roots in the Tung Wah Hospital, the group has evolved from a civil charitable organisation into a modern non-governmental organisation, bearing testimony to the development of Hong Kong society as well as its role in bringing together mainland and overseas Chinese.

As a result of special circumstances in modern Chinese history, Hong Kong, situated along China’s south-eastern coast, rose to become Britain’s most prosperous colony in the Far East. In the early years of Hong Kong’s opening to foreign trade, most of its residents were immigrants from mainland China. Although the colonial government was extremely wary of Chinese people, the British relied on the diligence, experience and wealth of the Chinese to maintain social stability and economic prosperity in the city. How to best govern Chinese people became a problem the government had to address.

Trade with China and overseas was robust in the 1860s. The result was the emergence of a newly formed social class composed of Chinese compradors and traders. To safeguard their own interests and those within the Chinese community, these merchants were eager to establish an organisation that would represent all Chinese people in Hong Kong and serve as a platform for communication with the government. In the end, the Hong Kong Government entered into talks with the Chinese gentry and merchants on medical, healthcare and hygiene problems affecting the ethnic Chinese residents of the colony. These negotiations led to the founding of the Tung Wah Hospital.

Founded in 1870, the Tung Wah Hospital is Hong Kong’s – and also China’s – first charitable organisation established on the basis of Western law. The hospital’s founding directors were traders with strong business connections in mainland China and Southeast Asia. They understood that if Hong Kong were to play a significant role in China’s foreign trade, the city had to strengthen its links with Chinese in the mainland and abroad. Thus, Tung Wah would raise funds for disaster relief whenever mainland or overseas Chinese communities were struck by a major natural calamity. Tung Wah engaged in these efforts in addition to responding to the medical and healthcare needs of local Chinese, providing education and social relief.

The Kwong Wah and the Tung Wah Eastern hospitals were founded in 1911 and 1929, respectively. In 1931, the two hospitals were lawfully combined with Tung Wah Hospital into the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals. The expansion and amalgamation process was spearheaded by the Hong Kong Government, which exerted tight control over Tung Wah through the creation of the Advisory Board, the Medical Committee and an increased presence of Western medical practitioners in the hospital. Nevertheless, the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals maintained its independence and continued to provide charitable services and relief to residents of Hong Kong. Since its founding, the group has preserved the tradition of offering Chinese medical consultation and free medical services to the poor. Since its establishment, service has never been disrupted even amidst the most difficult of times.

The Tung Wah Group of Hospitals has always placed strong emphasis on conserving, researching and organising its own history. Given the massive loss of pre-war government documents in Hong Kong, Tung Wah’s well-preserved written records played a key part in providing an understanding of Hong Kong’s pre-war development. Since 1970, Tung Wah has ardently preserved cultural relics through a museum that is open to the public. In recent years, the group has published special publications in addition to a portion of its original document collection for the benefit of researchers and the general public. In addition, the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals meticulously manages its historical buildings. In 2005, restoration work on the Tung Wah Coffin Home was honoured by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) with the Asia-Pacific Heritage Award.

The exhibition on “Hong Kong, Benevolent City: Tung Wah and the Growth of Chinese Communities” jointly presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and Tung Wah Group of Hospitals, was held in 2010 at the Hong Kong Museum of History. It introduced Tung Wah Group of Hospitals' contribution to Hong Kong society and overseas Chinese communities in medical and health services, disaster relief, education, social services, burial of overseas Chinese in their hometown and cultural preservation.

This collection presents the contents and materials of the exhibition under the same title. Users can get to know the social changes Hong Kong has undergone as well as bear witness to the daily lives of its citizens of the past. They can also learn about the role of Hong Kong as a hub in the global Chinese charity network and gain a deeper understanding of the “Hong Kong Story” itself, one intimately interconnected with the history of Chinese people around the globe.

Hong Kong, Benevolent City: Tung Wah and the Growth of Chinese Communities

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