HONG KONG-BORN HISTORIAN David Faure has close links with the territory even though Oxford University has been his academic home for more than a decade. For it is here that he developed his passion for understanding historical events. He still splits his time between Britain and Hong Kong, where he is seen as a popular source of insight into the former colony's past. This was reflected in the heavy turnout for his lecture on Hong Kong's politics in the 1960s at the Central Library last weekend. The basement lecture theatre was almost full as Faure detailed a defining era in local history. Among lectures offered in the library's seminar series on Hong Kong history, his was one of the most popular. Though he enjoys story-telling - something all historians do, he says - his key concern is to cast his critical eye over events. 'In writing history, we need to write clearly the true reality,' said Faure, a lecturer in modern Chinese history and a fellow at St Anthony's College. A post-colonial era had already dawned on the territory in the '60s, argued Faure, who experienced the political turmoil of that era first hand, as a history student and student union chairman at the University of Hong Kong, where he studied between 1966 and 1969. Hong Kong enjoyed unprecedented autonomy from Britain, the latter floundering with a weak economy in the wake of World War II. 'The Hong Kong government made its own decisions without referring to the then Colonial Office. The government bureaucracy was acting like a political party. This marked the start of an era when the local government began to have its own stance, though that does not mean power was delegated to the people,' he said, citing evidence including correspondence between governors such as Sir David Trench, whom he described as a brilliant administrator, and the Colonial Office, gleaned from the Public Records Office in London. The sizeable Hong Kong records collection at HKU was another good source on the period, he said. There is a wealth of information about the territory that had yet to be tapped by those interested in the history of Hong Kong, he added. 'Official records usually become open to the public after 30 years. Historians interested in the MacLehose era should keep an eye on them.' It was also in the 1960s that localisation began in the civil service. HKU graduates were recruited for administrative duties within the government, which had until then been dominated by Britons. 'It was expensive to recruit expatriates,' he said. With more education available locally, more people also went to university, added Faure, who was born to an English father and a Chinese mother, and educated at St Paul's College in Mid-Levels. Though bilingual, he chose a different career path from many of his fellow students. He began teaching at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 1976, after obtaining a doctorate from Princeton University. 'I was fortunate that I knew what I was interested in early on. Like anthropologists, the reason we are interested in our subject is because we are interested in ourselves,' he said. For the history of identity of Chinese people, he visited sites such as temples and monasteries in the mainland. 'I belong to a small group of historians who think if you want to write history, you have got to know the places. I think a good grasp of the historical geography is vital to an understanding of what you study.' Despite his ethnic background, he is not ambivalent about his Chinese identity: 'I have always considered myself as a Hongkonger.' He also looked into the impact of colonialism on issues such as identity. His findings are included in a book to be released soon by HKU's Centre of Asian Studies. His other area of expertise - the making of lineages in the New Territories - took him to other parts of the Pearl River Delta where he found that lineage played a prominent social role. But he became interested in this particular branch of study only by chance. While a lecturer at CUHK in the early 1980s, he went to the New Territories together with his friend James Hayes, a specialist in Hong Kong village culture, to collect rare stone inscriptions on temple walls. The team ended up producing a book series on stone inscriptions for the Hong Kong History Museum. Unexpectedly, the trips also exposed Faure, 55, to various rural traditions and ignited his interest in the strong emphasis on ancestral ties among native residents. 'Working in the New Territories is the best education I ever had. Even though I grew up in Hong Kong, I rarely went there,' he said. 'That is where I learned Chinese history. You got to see why lineage was so important as part of village organisation.' Faure believes the institution of lineage dates back to as early as the 16th century during the Ming dynasty and serves practical purposes. 'In the absence of corporate companies or company law in those days, lineage or temple trust provided a means for holding properties in the names of the deities or ancestors. That was what propelled China into commercial development in the 16th century,' he said. His views do not always concur with those held by today's village elders, however. For example, he disagreed with claims by the Tang Clan in Yuen Long that they were descendants of migrants from central China. 'There is not a shred of evidence for that,' he said. The Tangs are Hakka people. 'The Cantonese, too, liked to say they came from central China. But I think they were always south China natives.' Another area that has caught his attention is business. 'This is the third time in 500 years we've seen a sudden burst of economic activity in China. We saw it happening the first time around 1500 in south China, prompted by the silver trade. By the 1900 the world economy had moved on to a different stage. Not just in China, but the whole world was opened for trade by the West.' The Central Library's seminars on Hong Kong history can be heard at www.hkpl.gov.hk until the end of March.