This book focuses on Lam Woo, a well-known, highly successful Chinese building contractor whose company was based in Hong Kong at the beginning of the twentieth century. It is also about the marginal group of people he exemplifies, those who joined the Chinese diaspora because of poverty and political turmoil and were later driven back home because of discrimination and other difficulties. An important contribution to Hong Kong Studies, this book provides a window onto the socio-political conditions in Hong Kong leading up to and following the 1911 revolution that established the Republic of China and the following two decades. In studying Lam Woo’s life and family, we catch a glimpse of the lives of a unique segment of the Hong Kong Chinese community—namely, the educated, westernized Chinese, mainly Christians, some of whom supported the revolution to overthrow the Qing dynasty and helped to establish Hong Kong’s influential YMCA.
Professor Chan, who has written several books on Hong Kong History, draws on rich archival sources, and historical photographs to illustrate the life of a man who was a pioneer builder of majestic heritage buildings throughout Hong Kong such as St. Paul’s Church, St. Paul’s Coeducational College, the Diocesan Boys’ School, and St. Stephen’s College, all of which remain in use today. This book is a significant historical study that rediscovers an important but less studied part of Hong Kong’s development during the early twentieth century. For instance, the book details Lam Woo’s efforts in rebuilding the port facilities and docks that helped the colony’s transformation into a glamorous, international port. The author also discusses how Lam Woo’s contributions to the building of the roads encircling the New Territories and the bridges linked different parts of the territory with mainland China, where water and food supplies would later come from.
In the later part of the book, the author highlights how Lam Woo, a devout Anglican, contributed to the expansion of the Chinese Anglican Church community. As one of the founders of St. Paul’s Church, he promoted the establishment of the Hong Kong YMCA, with its emphasis on character training in “the development of body, mind, and spirit” for young people. The book emphasizes that his most lasting legacy for Hong Kong and his native Guangzhou was through his philanthropist activities in education. Lam Woo supported education for girls and founded St. Paul’s Girls’ School, the forerunner of the notable St. Paul’s Co-educational College, founded a primary and a secondary school in his native village, and donated extensively to Lingnan University.