How Hong Kong's ties with France first blossomed

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 December, 2012, 3:26am

Hongkongers owe a debt of thanks to a French missionary who identified and preserved the bauhinia, the city's floral emblem, an expert in French-Hong Kong relations said yesterday.

Francois Dremeaux, a history teacher at the French International School of Hong Kong, told the bauhinia story at celebrations marking the 150th anniversary of relations between France and Hong Kong.

"In 1888, a French father called Jean-Marie Delavay found a beautiful flower near Pok Fu Lam," said Dremeaux, co-author of the book Hong Kong-French Connections - From the 19th Century to the Present Day, which was launched at yesterday's fête at the French consulate general.

"He classified it as the bauhinia family, from the name of two other French botanists, the Bauhin brothers. He preserved this species … thanks to his work the flower continued to grow in Hong Kong." The missionary grafted and replanted the species enthusiastically.

In a speech to guests, French consul general Arnaud Barthelemy said: "This book will tell you many stories that are few have heard about … Jackie Chan learned kung fu at the French consul's residence, where his parents worked in the late 1950s."

Paulette Tsoi, 76, a Frenchwoman who has lived in Hong Kong for over 50 years, is one of the book's subjects. The first French lawyer registered in Hong Kong, she spoke about her experiences, including marrying a Chinese man when she was 21.

When she first arrived in Hong Kong, "my husband's family were waiting for me [at the pier] in blue mandarin dresses". "Everything was just strange."

More than 15,000 French people live in Hong Kong. Deputy consul general Agnes Humruzian said Hong Kong has the biggest expatriate French population of any Asian city.