For a small city with a relatively short municipal history, Hong Kong boasts an extraordinary array of colourful urban legends. Commonplace examples abound. Virtually every sealed-off hillside entrance must be a wartime tunnel; likewise, any pre-Pacific war building was definitely a Japanese torture chamber. The more lurid, bloodthirsty and ghost-haunted the “history” of a place is, the better. Endlessly retold stories about the ancestors of Hong Kong’s lesser sulphur-crested cockatoo population being released from the Government House aviaries when the Pacific war broke out offer a plausible explanation for the otherwise inexplicable proliferation of an exotic species. But is the tale materially accurate? We don’t know. The origins of various urban myths, and how they have evolved into received truth over time, offer revealing insights into local approaches to history. How do sometimes-fanciful tales gradually – through constant repetition – become “true” in the popular imagination? And why does evidence-based refutation of urban myths every so often cause serious upset to those who choose to believe them? One reason for the widespread nature of Hong Kong’s urban legends is the uncritical acceptance to oral history. The credibility of an oral history rests on the assumption that the person telling the story is a reliable witness to actual events. Likewise, if they are retailing a second-hand account, it must be assumed that they received their original information from a credible source. Acceptance of an oral account also implicitly assumes that nothing substantial was “improved in the telling.” Misrepresentations produced by the judicious rearrangement of facts and the sequence of events, and the amplification or distortion of the roles of specific actors to offer a preferred narrative or advance a particular theoretical perspective, are often mistakenly assumed to be absent in an oral testimony. Another contributing factor is the assumption – made by newcomers – that long-term residents must actually know something factually solid and historically reliable about the place where they were born, raised, educated and have lived for large tracts of their lives. Like many surreal, Alice-in-Wonderland aspects of Hong Kong life that make it such a kaleidoscope of contradiction, this otherwise reasonable assessment cannot be relied upon here. Until relatively recently, anything approaching serious local history was not taught in the overwhelming majority of schools , as part of any curriculum. Due to the rote-learning nature of Hong Kong education, if a particular subject didn’t appear on an exam syllabus – the inexorable logic went – then why spend precious time and energy learning about it? Consequently, information that in other societies would be considered basic civic knowledge remained glaringly absent among otherwise well-educated people. Those with an inherent interest in local history were considered a bit weird, almost like music students who played for genuine pleasure, and not simply because their parents insisted they learn an instrument, as some aspirational, middle-class display of status. While this situation has improved in recent years, it remains fundamentally unchanged. Urban legends proliferate in societies where those in ultimate power have a vested interest in the propagation of a particular viewpoint. A striking example is the dogged insistence thatSingapore was some kind of tropical backwater before Lee Kuan Yew came to powerand flowered from a decaying slum under his party’s enlightened leadership. Despite contrary documentary evidence, this particular urban myth’s potency increased with the telling; negative sanctions imposed on those who dared to suggest otherwise also silenced inconvenient alternative viewpoints. Likewise, the persistence with which many young people, not even then alive, maintained that Hong Kong was better in all respects before “1997 and all that” supervened went critically unchallenged for too long, with tragic, far-reaching consequences we now see all round us.