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Legislative Council, Statue Square and Waterfront - A Walk in Hong Kong's Central District

Legislative Council
Though many of its old buildings have gone forever, demolished to give way for futuristic skyscrapers, Hong Kong's colonial heritage is still visible. Surrounded, or hidden behind, fancy modern buildings, one can find many historic treasures.

Central District is the best place to explore Hong Kong's past. It is in this area, formerly known as Victoria, that the British began to develop their newly acquired colony from 1843 onwards. It was the centre of power and finance, and it still partly retains this function.

Exit K of Central MTR station leads to the Legislative Council and Statue Square. The Legislative Council (often called LegCo) is the seat of Hong Kong's Legislature. Designed by Ingress Bell and Aston Webb, who also designed the Victoria and Albert Museum and Buckingham Palace in London (Lung, p. 45/ Ingham 2007, p. 30) and completed in 1912, it was the seat of the Supreme Court until the late 1980s, when it moved to Queensway. During the Japanese occupation it was the headquarters of the Japanese secret police. In the 1980s, after extensive renovation, the building was chosen to house the Legislative Council (Wordie, p. 30).

Legislative Council (LegCo)
Opposite the LegCo is Statue Square. Visitors might think that the name is derived from the statue that now stands at the end of the square, which portrays Sir Thomas Jackson (1841 - 1915), one of the founders of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank Corporation, better known as HSBC. However, the Chinese name of the square (皇后像廣場, pinyin: huánghòu xiàng guǎngchǎng), which literally means 'Empress Statue Square', reveals that statue square refers to a sculpture of Queen and Empress Victoria.

Sir Thomas Jackson

View of Statue Square and the LegCo. Unfortunately, the trees block the view of the LegCo building. For some strange reason, there are trees in front of several major tourist attractions and it's impossible to take pictures of the facades from the front. Perhaps I should write a letter to the Hong Kong government and ask them to remove the trees for the sake of visitors, but I have already been rebuked by a friend for being too cruel to the trees.  
Sir Thomas Jackson is overshadowed by the gigantic buildings of the banks
to which prosperity he once contributed

The sculpture of Queen Victoria was removed by the Japanese during their occupation of Hong Kong in World War II. The statue of Jackson, which stood in the square together with other effigies, including that of George V and Edward VII, was left there, perhaps because he was not a political figure. Victoria's statue was discovered in Yokohama after the war and brought back to Hong Kong. Instead of being returned to its original place, it was relocated to Victoria Park, where it still stands today (Ingham 2007, pp. 28-29).


The statue of Queen Victoria, which now stands in Victoria Park, in Wan Chai District
On the left is the old Bank of China building. Hard to believe, this was in the 1950s the tallest building in Hong Kong



Behind the LegCo is Chater Garden, named after the Armenian businessman Sir Paul Chater (1846-1926), who came to Hong Kong in 1864. He made a fortune as a banker and real estate investor. On reclaimed land he built Royal Square, which was later renamed Statue Square (Wordie, p. 28). Sir Chater was an Anglophile, and he expressed his pro-British feelings by commissioning the statues I mentioned before. 

Chater Garden was once a cricket ground, a green oasis in the crowded metropolis. It was owned by the Hong Kong Cricket Club, an exclusive, mainly 'white' club. In the 1970s, during the governorship of Sir Murray Maclehose, the cricket ground became increasingly associated with the elitism of the British colonial masters. At that time, the British colonial administration was trying to give more voice to and guarantee an equal, impartial treatment of the Chinese population. So the cricket lane was relocated and the area was transformed  into a public park that could be enjoyed by all Hong Kongers (Wordie, p. 32).

Chater Garden

The waterfront side also presents some interesting buildings, which are all located between Chater Road and Connaught Road. 





The most conspicuous of them is perhaps the cenotaph, built in 1923 to commemorate the victims of World War I and, after 1945, also the victims of the second world conflict. It is almost identical to the cenotaph in London's Whitehall (Wordie, p. 29). 

Cenotaph

On the left of the cenotaph is the Mandarin Oriental, one of the most prestigious hotels in Hong Kong. The Mandarin Oriental is also remembered for a tragedy that took place on 1 April 2003: Leslie Cheung, the iconic singer and actor who starred in films such as Wong Kar-wai's Days of Being Wild and Chen Kaige's Farewell My Concubine, jumped off the 24th floor of the building. As the Time reported, on that Tuesday

[H]e scheduled a tea with his friend and former agent, Chan Suk-fan, at a favorite haunt, the Mandarin Oriental hotel. When he didn't show, Chan called Leslie, who was on the terrace of the hotel's 24th-floor gym. He said he'd meet her outside; he'd be right down. It was a final tease — a sick joke, really — for when Chan came out she found his body on the pavement. He had leapt to his death.




On the right side of the cenotaph is the Hong Kong Club, which was for decades the exclusive meeting point of the 'white' elite. Chinese, Eurasians and Portuguese were denied membership. This policy was finally changed after WWII, which marked the end of the 'white supremacy' in Hong Kong. The original building was completed in 1897, but it was unfortunately demolished in 1981 due to excessive costs. 

This is how the Hong Kong Club looked like in 1928; the cenotaph is right in front of it
And this is how it looks today
Mandarin Hotel with the LegCo on the left, and the cenotaph on the right
Cenotaph
The following video shows how this all looked like in the 1960s. At the beginning of the video you can clearly recognize the cenotaph and the old Hong Kong Club building.







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