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Research Student Seminar: Defining Britishness in the Great Depression

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Room 310

Old Teachers College

The University of Sydney, NSW 2006

Australia

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Defining Britishness in the Great Depression:Major Louis Cassel and his League for British Whites in 1933 Hong Kong

On 5 August 1933, English newspapers in Hong Kong reported an interview with Major Louis Cassel, who announced the formation of an association called ‘The League of British Whites’. Aiming for the ‘protection and advancement of British whites’, the League urged constitutional reform to make Hong Kong an autonomous ‘white’ colony. Officials there – the League’s representative claimed – were too inclined to think from the Chinese point of view, and only through ‘self-government’ could the ‘British Whites’ protect their ‘own kith and kin’. It aimed to enact laws that would compel companies to employ ‘British whites’, ‘do away’ with unemployed Britons, forbid the abuse of aliens trading under British names, and even abolish Chinese Justices of Peace. It prompted a heated debate amongst the British community there. Some condemned the League for being fascist. Others wanted Hong Kong to become more British, while worrying that it would create racial tension and a class of poor whites. Not achieving any of the goals he had set for the League, Cassel returned to England in 1934 and shortly afterwards died there alone without family and friends.

Examining the life of Cassel, his controversial organization and the debate generated, this paper aims to understand overseas Britons’ notions of Britishness and their responses towards global crises in the interwar years. Cassel and his supporters’ desire to compel the employment of Britons was itself a conscious act to guard British superiority during the Great Depression. The formation of the League reflects how extreme nationalism affected how these Britons regarded the role they should play in the empire; that it achieved nothing however suggests how such views interplayed with liberalism in the colonial periphery. The discussion also reflected how their interaction with other communities stretched the meaning of Britishness as not only a racial but national identity.

About the speaker
Vivian Kong is a PhD candidate at the University of Bristol under the Hong Kong History Project. By situating the colony as a site of interaction between the British, Chinese, Portuguese, Indians and Eurasians, her doctoral research explores notions of Britishness in interwar Hong Kong.

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Room 310

Old Teachers College

The University of Sydney, NSW 2006

Australia

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