More Thoughts on HSBC Now

4 11 2015

In an earlier blog post, I mentioned the superb videos about its history that HSBC has placed on YouTube Channel, HSBC Now. (I discovered these videos by accident last week). These videos typically involve an HSBC employee travelling to a site and looking at artefacts related to an individual in the bank’s history who was their antecedent in some sense.

One of the videos focuses on the evolving position of Chinese workers in the bank. This video was particularly interesting to me as I’ve recently published an academic paper on HSBC compradors, the Chinese cultural and linguistic brokers who linked this British-controlled bank to the Chinese business system. (See abstract and link below to the academic article below).

In the video I’m sharing today, Eric Yu, Head of HSBC’s China Desk in Germany, learns about the stories of Peter Lee Shunwah and Zee Tsungyung, whose commitment helped the bank to earn the trust of Chinese customers in the 1920s and 1930s. The video discusses the challenges researchers face in trying to use limited archival materials to reconstruct what these early Chinese employees did. HSBC has a wonderful corporate archive but thanks to war and various other disasters not all of the documents we would want have survived.

Please note that I had nothing whatsoever to do with the creation of these great videos.  If you want to read the paper I mentioned, the details are here:

Smith, Andrew. “The winds of change and the end of the Comprador System in the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation.” Business History  (2015): 1-28.

Paper abstract: There was a marked shift in attitudes in the capitalist world in the 1960s. In Britain and other Western democracies, workplace discrimination became both illegal and socially unacceptable in the years around 1965. At about the same time, decolonisation accelerated. This article will show how the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation responded to this changing environment by reforming the way it treated non-British workers in Asian markets. Prior to the 1960s, workers had been assigned to ethnic layers, with ethnic Chinese individuals occupying the lowest group and British expatriates filling all executive posts. In the 1960s, this system was scrapped in favour of a less discriminatory one. This article, which is based on research in the company’s archive as well as other primary sources, will explore how the bank shed the cultural and institutional legacies of colonialism, which included the so-called comprador system.

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