Feb 09 2023


5:30 pm - 7:00 pm


Department of History

Department of History

Nicole Vaughan
Department of History, HKU
Run Run Shaw Tower 4/F 4.04

This paper examines “Chinese noise,” such as hawker cries, firecrackers, and Chinese music, in nineteenth-century Hong Kong, the discourses surrounding it, and how it was legislated. It argues that the discourse formed by the writings of Europeans in the British colony about noise that they construed as distinctly Chinese was shaped by two related discourses: one on noise nuisance in London and the other on the relationship between noise and civilization. In the colonial context, the emphasis on class dominant in the metropole shifted to an emphasis on race, and the civilizational discourse was flattened, establishing a binary model in which Chinese were producers of noise and unaffected by hearing it while Europeans were intrinsically quiet and suffered from hearing noise. On the local level, this process served to justify the differential treatment of space in local legislation, enabling the creation of an area of privileged “European” space that was legally protected from certain noises construed as “Chinese.” On a broader level, it contributed to the transformation, begun in the eighteenth century, of the Chinese from a civilized other into a backwards one, supposedly in need of the civilizing influence of the British Empire.

Nicole Vaughan is a PhD candidate in the Department of History at the University of Hong Kong. She holds an MPhil from the University of Hong Kong, an MLitt from the University of St Andrews, and an MA from the University of Edinburgh. Her research examines the role of the senses in the production of racialized space in Hong Kong and San Francisco.

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