The Harilals of Hong Kong

Such an amazing video; the joint family done well by the famous Harilals of Hong Kong (they own the Pearl Continental building). Even though I would swap it round and send the sons as further afield as possible (like the Rothschilds) and keep the daughters (if I had a daughter I’d want her to go into STEM subjects; the tougher the better).

I’ve met one of the Harilals daughter-in-law at a wedding; she was fun-loving and rather incandescent, she certainly stood out.

I do find the whole nuclear family setup to be so much unnecessary grunt work.

These sort of Diaspora Baniya families (I think Bhaibands, Vidhi’s caste, are originally Punjabi Khatri who moved southward towards Sindh) are going to keep the candle of Hinduism alive against assimilation.

22 thoughts on “The Harilals of Hong Kong”

  1. It’s spelt Harilela, btw 😉 Sindhis form the majority of Hong Kong’s settled desi population. Other desis come and go (as mine did), but the Sindhis really put down roots as they immigrated in extended family units and prospered. Being cut off from their ancestral lands obviously playing a big role there too.

    In a city where even upper middle class folks live in cramped apartments, Sindhis seemed to be the only desis around that had the means to live in extended family mansions (real estate prices in HK are eye watering…)

  2. Will be difficult to keep the flame of Hinduism alive in foreign lands, unless we achieve critical mass in local areas (eg Bali and Jersey.) Low fertility, exogamy, and cultural assimilation will ensure the death of Indo-America before long.

    1. HM Brough most American Hindus (including Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs etc.) are not Deshi. Many are caucasian. They will keep Sanathana Dharma alive.

  3. Nice. We need more articles on Hong Kong. I was fascinated by Hong Kong between the ages of 8 and early 20s. I use to read the Hong Kong (and Singapore) business press.

    It is sad that English fluency has declined in Hong Kong since the 1990s.

    Zach, are you worried about how the success of Asians and Deshis will lead to a global xenophobic jealous backlash?

    1. “It is sad that English fluency has declined in Hong Kong since the 1990s.”

      But on the plus side, Mandarin fluency among native Hong Kongers (as in, at least 2’nd or 3’rd gen) has gone way up!

      1. “Mandarin fluency among native Hong Kongers (as in, at least 2’nd or 3’rd gen) has gone way up!”


        This is very good news. Sadly I am not an expert in Mandarin 🙁

  4. Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy features great writing on Parsi and Baniya diaspora families in Canton (now Guangzhou) and Hong Kong. Anyone know how Parsis got to be a predominantly trading community? Were they always so?

    1. Yes – I was just speak to a PhD who is doing the Opium wars from the Indian perspective and another who is doing it on Sindhi migration in 1947. got to get them on podcasts!

      1. You could argue that the Opium wars were precipitated by Indians if you counted the Sasoons of Bombay as Indian. It was the seizure of their shipment that led to the first opium war and the subsequent treaty of Nanking.

  5. If I had more time I would write about this.

    I am worried about the legal independence of Hong Kong being weakened. This is a legitimate possibility. It is a big deal. I am not given to exaggeration (99% of crises are media entertainment driven nuttiness).

    My hope is that a compromise is reached. Hong Kong had substantial economic, financial and central bank independence in the decade after 1997. This has slowly atrophied over time.

    Can we have podcasts on this subject? I think the whole world can learn a ton from Hong Kong!

    1. @AnAn

      I’m not sure there’s any lessons to be drawn for the wider world from Hong Kong given the uniqueness of its geography and history. One could argue that it was the only non-settler project British colony for which the colonial period was a spectacular success (Singapore doesn’t count, since most of its success came post independence).

      The protests happening in HK right now* are because a significant minority of the population realize that this is the last meaningful stand for the `one country two systems’ status quo. Being able to extradite people from HK to China will have a chilling effect of the relative political freedoms that HK’ers still enjoy. The thing that most western commentators don’t get however, is that a significant chunk of the population is either indifferent to it, or tend pro Beijing.

      On the other hand, a majority of HK Chinese people are anxious about their culture and way of life disappearing under increasing mainland influence. There are pronounced cultural differences even with Cantonese speakers from neighboring Guangdong province. For instance, during the 2014 `umbrella movement’ protests, protestors would refer to it using unsimplified Chinese characters still used in HK and unrecognizable to mainlanders as an FU to them.

      * there’s a lull today, but they’ll be back as soon as the legislative council convenes again to pass the extradition bill.

  6. David Sassoon was born in Baghdad. Out of curiosity, who considers the Sassoons as Indians.

    1. … And settled and died in India, as did a number of his sons (who were mostly in charge of the opium running). Go to Bombay, you’ll find docks, libraries and streets named after him. Seems like decent enough Indian qualifications to me 😉

      1. India gained some of the profits from forced Indian Opium Sales to China. David Sasoon and Rustomjee Tata were the merchants of Indian Opium to China. Many made money from Opium sales to China including Delano, FD Roosevelt’s maternal grandfather.

        I guess not necessary to discuss Rustomjee Tata

        David Sasoon was an Iraqi Jew (think Bombay Sasoon Dock). His children became nobility in England and married into the Rothschild family.

        A grand daughter ran a number of British newspapers, including The Sunday Times (1893–1904) and The Observer, which she also edited.

        Read about the Sasoons, very Interesting.

        1. … but not all of them built libraries or were leaders of their adopted community (the Knesset Eliyahu synagogue in Mumbai was built with Sasoon money). Being Indian is a big tent… for instance, who here would dare deny Farokh Balsara’s Indian credentials? 😉

  7. Yeah this whole “owning” people who clearly don’t want to be owned is a bit off. Give it a decade or so and Pri Chops will say she was born in America only

    1. I don’t think anyone was trying to own anyone. Denying people access to any claims of being from somewhere is a whole other thing however… Freddy was fairly open about his Parsi heritage, and if you think about it, there’s no bigger signifier of being desi than that cop-stache he sported through most his career 😉

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