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Selected Development Project
Project Title Members Only: Private Clubs and Associational Life in Colonial Hong Kong
Principal Investigator Dr Barry James CROSBIE
Area of Research Project
Social Studies
Project Period
From 01/2017 To 12/2019
  1. To examine the reasons why private members' clubs were established in colonial Hong Kong as well as to explore how the first clubs to emerge there compared to those that were founded in Britain at an earlier period.
  2. To identify what was unique about Hong Kong and its private members' clubs in relation to other colonies within the British empire.
  3. To understand how various club members viewed the institutions they belonged to and why they considered membership of them useful or necessary. To find out if these attitudes changed as Hong Kong modernized and developed.
  4. To investigate what other functions and roles, beyond their official founding purposes and principles, private members' clubs played in the history of the territory and how these changed according to events in mainland China, and within the British empire.
  5. To consider the extent to which Chinese (or, other) cultural traditions, norms and practices permeated British private members' clubs in Hong Kong. Conversely, to explore whether exclusively Chinese clubs drew on any recognizable British (or, other) cultural traditions and practices.
  6. To examine the nature of the networks that private members' clubs in Hong Kong belonged to as well as to ascertain if they were transnational or imperial-based networks.
  7. To explain how far private members' clubs and their respective networks functioned as conduits for the movement of peoples, ideas and goods from Hong Kong to other parts of the world during the colonial period.
Methods Used
The methodological approach for this study is centred around an examination of relevant secondary and primary source material – newspaper articles, private and official correspondence, and publications – on the history of colonial clubs in Hong Kong during the period 1841 to 1997. In addition to identifying and consulting relevant public records contained in libraries and archives in Hong Kong, the project also involves several archival visits to historical archives in the United Kingdom for the purpose of piecing together a comprehensive study of privare members’ clubs in Hong Kong during the colonial era
Summary of Findings
One of the key findings of the research project thus far has been to uncover the important and diverse role that private members’ clubs played within the broader associational life of Hong Kong under British colonial rule. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there were clubs for eating, drinking, sleeping, playing sports as well as government-service orientated clubs. Many of these clubs were exclusive to either Chinese or European men, though many clubs were open to nationalities and races of various kinds, while there were separate clubs for Chinese and British women, sojourning businessmen and multiple religious communities alike. By examining the emergence and impact of colonial clubs during this period, the project has helped advance our understanding of colonial-era clubs as complex social entities whose significance extended well beyond the popular image of them as symbols of racial exclusivity and colonial power. Moreover, as largely self-governing, voluntary associations, initial research findings have indicated how private members’ clubs were spaces grounded in the civil behavior of the public sphere. Primary source documents evinced that they had the power to exert tremendous social, political and economic influence in their own right playing a prominent role in the shaping of Hong Kong’s civil society, whether serving as important nurseries for the spread of democracy and western ‘values’ and culture, or in providing forums and political platforms for Chinese political resistance and social reform.
This study will add a new dimension to the history of private members' clubs and role of associationalism in shaping the development of the British empire and of former British colonies. To date, there is no book-length study that has examined private members' clubs in a British imperial context, or has attempted to write a history of the considerable number of clubs that emerged in Hong Kong during colonial times. This research project will attempt to fill that particular void in the literature.
Selected Output
The primary output from this research project will be a book (c.100,000 words in length) published by a leading academic press. The book will be written in a way that is accessable to a general as well as academic audience.
Biography of Principal Investigator

Dr Barry James Crosbie is an Assistant Professor of Department of Literature and Cultural Studies at The Education University of Hong Kong. He completed a PhD in Modern History at the University of Cambridge in 2005. His research interests focus on the cultural; intellectual and political interconnections between nineteenth-century British; imperial and global history.

Funding Source

General Research Fund