Hong Kong’s ‘protected women’: the forgotten females of city’s patriarchal 19th-century society

Supported financially by wealthy Western men in exchange for long-term sexual relationships, the women, mostly from the Tanka ethnic minority, were integral to the city’s evolution.  Ng Akew was the most prominent among them, and what’s left of her former home in Central is threatened by development.

So who was Ng Akew??
Ng Akew (sometimes Ong Akew, Ong Mo Kew or Hung Mo Kew) was the de facto leader of Hong Kong’s “protected women”. Almost exclusively of Tanka descent (the Tanka are an ethnic minority in southern China), these young women were financially supported by male members of the Western elite and in turn provided a long-term sexual relation­ship to men who were thousands of miles from their homelands in Europe or America.

A painting of a Tanka boatwoman by George Chinnery (1774-1852). Photo: courtesy of the Hong Kong Maritime MuseumThe women were not regarded as prostitutes or courtesans. Instead, protected by eminent merchants, they achieved an elevated, yet unofficial, social status, economic independence and local influence within a patriarchal and racist society.

The history of 19th-century Hong Kong is dominated by taipans, compradors, sea captains, colonial administrators and missionaries. It’s a story about Western males written by Western males, but the small site in Central, part of which was once the home of Ng Akew, connects us to her story and the important role protected women played in the development of Hong Kong.

read more here @ South China Morning Post


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