Hong Kong Cenotaph, Hong Kong Island

Inaugurated on 25th May (Empire Day) 1923, Hong Kong’s Cenotaph (Greek for ‘empty tomb’) was erected in the centrally-located Statue Square by the British colonial government. Its purpose was to commemorate ‘the Glorious Dead’ of the First World War and represent Britain’s role as a global peacemaker. It was an identical replica of the Cenotaph in London and formed part of a whole network of such memory sites that started spanning the British Empire in the early 1920s. After World War II, the Hong Kong Cenotaph received additional inscriptions to pay homage to the British and Commonwealth servicemen who had died in the defence of Hong Kong in 1941 in particular and in World War II more generally.

In 1981, Chinese inscriptions were added to the memorial that read 英魂不朽 浩氣長存 (The Heroes Will Live Forever, The Noble Spirit Will Shine in Eternity), which were meant to give the Cenotaph a more inclusive appearance. The 1980s and 1990s also saw the Cenotaph transformed into a site of protest. Hong Kong’s Pacific War veterans used it as an effective public platform to articulate their demands for British citizenship in the run-up to the colony’s ‘handover’ to China in 1997.

Since the ‘handover’, the Hong Kong Cenotaph has been the only local memorial where the British memorial service of Remembrance Day is still being held each November. The ceremony continues to be organised by the local branch of the British Legion together with the Hong Kong Ex-Servicemen’s Association. It features prayers by representatives of multiple faiths, is supported by local cadet corps, and it attracts a large crowd from both the local Chinese and expat communities. On the days preceding the Remembrance Day ceremony, the organising bodies also hold a special flag day where they sell red paper poppies, familiar from the same remembrance events in Britain and across the Commonwealth, to raise money in support of local veterans.