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HKIHSS Departmental Seminar



Carol Tsang
The University of Hong Kong 'Suicide' or Salvation: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Debate in Interwar Hong Kong


21 Mar 2018

5:00 p.m.
Room 201, 2/F, May Hall



In February 1936, 'birth control' became the most fashionable word in Hong Kong. Debates over eugenics and the ethics of artificial birth control caught the headlines of virtually every local newspaper. The reason was obvious. Margaret Sanger, leader of the international birth control movement and jailbird, arrived in Hong Kong on 19 February upon the invitation of the Chinese Medical Association. On the next day she gave a public lecture on birth control to over five hundred people at the Hong Kong Hotel Roof Garden, with numerous forced to stand throughout the meeting. Many local elites viewed Sanger as a symbol of salvation for Hong Kong, a Chinese city haunted by poverty, abortion and infanticide. But her opponents, most notably the Catholics, disdained her for preaching 'suicide' in China. Some even criticized the establishment of birth control clinics in government health centres following her visit as 'an abuse of public money.'


This presentation explores how colonial officials, Chinese elites, medical professionals and religious leaders in interwar Hong Kong debated and popularized the use of artificial birth control in the name of Margaret Sanger. A few months after Sanger's visit, a group of elites and obstetricians founded the Eugenics League, which institutionalized the birth control campaign in Hong Kong. The League was eventually reorganized and renamed the Hong Kong Family Planning Association that is still functioning today. By exploiting Sanger's international status, the elites discussed contentious issues including mui-tsai, abortion and voluntary parenthood through the lens of birth control and urged the government to pursue social reform. The presentation concludes by examining the transnational debates of eugenics and birth control during the 1930s, situating Hong Kong within the larger social and political currents across the globe.


Dr. Carol Tsang is Honorary Assistant Professor of History at the University of Hong Kong. Her research interests include Hong Kong history, the history of women, gender and reproductive politics. She is currently completing the monograph, Better Babies: Reproduction in Modern Hong Kong, which explores a wide range of discourses about reproduction that the government, elites, obstetricians and journalists produced and circulated in the first half of the twentieth century.


All are welcome. No registration is required.