I love this ad from 1959, advertising Hong Kong as a shopper’s paradise.
Apart from the obligatory faux Chinese brushstroke font, I’m struck by this brochure because it reminds me of Hong Kong’s amazing history all while life on the mainland fell apart at this time.
Just ten years after the birth of the PRC, China was in the throes of the Great Leap Forward in 1959. To develop heavy industry, people in China were told to melt their metal pots and pans and cooking utensils. But as it turned out, the metal from the cookware was useless to steel production, so it was all a big waste. Millions starved because they no longer had the ability to cook. Tragic.
But life in Hong Kong wasn’t easy at that time either. With hundreds of thousands of refugees pouring into the colony each year back then, the HK government needed to relocate refugees living in dangerous shanties on the hillside. Sometimes water was only available for three to four hours a day, no matter where you lived in Hong Kong.
Despite these conditions, Hong Kong prospered as a light industry producer in the 50s, exporting plastic flowers, umbrellas, buttons, and enamelware. The success of Hong Kong’s light industry set the stage for the 1960s when the Made in Hong Kong label became associated instead with high quality goods: beaded cashmere sweaters, silk dresses, suits made in 24 hours, jade jewelry, rattan purses, and electronics.
And of course tourism in Hong Kong, aided by these amazing shopping opportunities, brought money into the territory.
I remember standing under a pagoda like the one framed in this brochure, looking down at the skyscrapers, Victoria Harbour, and across to Kowloon and the New Territories beyond that, all while marveling at the miracle that is Hong Kong.
It still brings tears to my eyes.