In 1937, the British government deported 48-year-old boarding house owner Amy Stanton and her husband to Singapore. While deported on the legal grounds of having violated the Aliens Registration Acts, Amy, a Hong Kong-born Eurasian, and her Chinese husband had been of interest to the London Metropolitan Police for some time under the suspicion of being brothel keepers. Police investigation and press reports suggested that the couple were running hotels of ‘doubtful reputation’. But they insisted on their innocence and submitted petitions asking for the revocation of their deportation orders. In their petitions, they cited their respectable, Christian family backgrounds in China, Hong Kong, and Singapore. They stressed their need to return to Britain – not least for their business, but also for their ten-year-old son who was studying in Cornwall.
This was the story I stumbled across in an archival document, and which marked the beginning of a quest I began amidst lockdown last year to find out what happened to Amy and her family. With newspapers, genealogical websites, and institutional records, I recreate Amy’s eventful life – as an award-winning artist and photographer in Cornwall, a war nurse who served in Malta, a boarding house owner and a brothel keeper in London. In doing so I also uncover the connections she and her family had with colonial policing in Hong Kong, Cornish civil society, Christianity and politics in Republican China, the illicit sex economy in interwar Britain, and the Chinese community in Singapore. This paper traces Amy’s extraordinary life journeys, and explores what her life story tells us about racial politics, womanhood, and respectability in the first half of the twentieth century.
About the Speaker:
Dr. Vivian Kong
Lecturer, Modern Chinese History
University of Bristol