At the servants’ mercy

Hong Kong, December 1929–February 1930

Ross describes affluent Europeans in Hongkong as deeply dependent on their native servants.

According to Ross, servants in Hongkong ‘rule’ their masters through a mixture of attentive mindfulness, lulling them by anticipating their needs, and silent stubbornness. Rather than letting their local recommendations and shopping expenses be checked by the masters, it is they who educate the Europeans and slowly “sinicize” them. [p. 242]

This is Ross’s take on a common trope of the colonizer who risks his identity through constant exposure to the colonized culture. To Ross’s mind, the rule of the servant only works because of the “incredible solidarity” of the Chinese, who collectively refuse to budge to Western will. [p. 242] With that claim the tricky interpersonal relationship between servant and master in Hongkong becomes just another example of Asia and Europe’s struggle for power in Ross’s writing. Drawing on both observation and his own experiences, he recommends that exacting standards are set at the beginning to ensure reliable service.

Joachim Schätz

Colin Ross. Ein Paradies von Dienerschafts Gnaden. In: Das Meer der Entscheidungen. Beiderseits des Pazifik. 7. Aufl. Leipzig: F.A. Brockhaus; 1942 [1924]; 240–3, 240 recto, verso.

Topic: Colonialism
Case: Oceania-Asia trip 1928-30

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