This symposium will leverage Hong Kong’s historic position as a meeting place between East and West to bring together social scientists and Earth scientists specialising in the Arctic and the wider global cryosphere to discuss the latest findings and research directions in Chinese polar science, policy, and activities.

This Thursday and Friday (22-23 April 2021), my collaborator at Nanjing University, Dr. Kang Yang, and I are organizing a symposium called “China and the Arctic – A View to 2050.” Originally, the event was meant to bring together polar Earth scientists and social scientists from Mainland China and Hong Kong in person in the special administrative region. Unfortunately, the pandemic put paid to those plans. Yet on the bright side, researchers based here in Hong Kong will still be able to gather in-person. Our colleagues in Mainland China and elsewhere will share their work online via Zoom. And with everything going digital and dual-mode these days, we’re delighted to be able to livestream many of the proceedings online, too, via Zoom.

The symposium has two parts. Day 1 (Thursday 22 April) will involve several activities uncovering the historic and present-day ties linking Hong Kong to the north.

The first is a walking tour I’ll lead, which will highlight how the landscape looked during the Ice Age and cover stories of Russian revolutionaries, mammoth ivory traders, Siberian fur sellers, and ice houses that stored frozen water brought all the way from New England. Dr. Pavel Toropov, a researcher and freelance writer based at the University of Hong Kong, will share his insights into the local mammoth ivory trade, which connects the city to the deep interior of Yakutia. (For those of you not able to join in person, I’ll also be putting together a virtual version of the walking tour, which will also allow people visiting Hong Kong to do a self-guided version).

The flagship Siberian Fur Store in TST, Hong Kong. The chain first opened in 1935.

The second activity will be a visit to the Hong Kong Maritime Museum, with a guided tour by a docent who will tell us about the North Pacific fur trade, within which the Pearl River Delta formed a major hub, and China’s new plans for a Maritime Silk Road, which officially extends into the Arctic via the Polar Silk Road.

US Navy Department, Hydrographic Office. Sailing Directions for Siberia and Chosen (1932).
Words for “sable,” a fur typically sourced from Siberia, in Cantonese. In Eitel (1877).

The third activity of the day will be lunch at Tai Ping Koon, where borscht and a giant souffle that looks a little bit like Baked Alaska can be found on the menu. The hearty beet soup – best served with a dollop of cream and a sprig of dill – was brought to Hong Kong by White Russians fleeing Siberia during and after the Russian Revolution, often via Chinese cities like Harbin and Shanghai. Borscht has now become an unlikely staple of many Cantonese delis, or cha chaan teng.

While Tai Ping Koon doesn’t serve Baked Alaska, the dessert, a spectacle involving a flambéed, meringue-encrusted ice cream, was supposedly invented by New Orleans chef Antoine Alciatore to commemorate Alaska’s purchase by the United States from Russia in 1867. (Little actual evidence exists to back up this claim, however). Nevertheless, it’s a popular dessert in Hong Kong’s luxury hotels and Western restaurants. Many of these dining venues, including Tai Ping Hoon, are odd time capsules still serving dishes popular in the 1950s, like Chicken à la King and Oysters Mornay. This peculiar fusion food is known as “soy sauce western cuisine,” and also traces its roots to Russian emigrés from China, whose lives were thrown into turmoil yet again by another communist revolution, this time in 1949.

This fast food chain restaurant in Hong Kong, Wheatfield X Borsch & Noodles, serves up borscht three ways. Photo: Pig_Pig_Wong (OpenRice)

The day’s fourth and final event will be a panel taking place at the University of Hong Kong and online featuring four individuals whose work or interests connect them to the polar regions. Chu Kee-duen became the first Hong Konger to sail the Northwest Passage, which he reached after crossing the Pacific from Hong Kong. Mark Agnew, outdoor and extreme sports editor at South China Morning Post, is planning to row the same waters in the summer of 2022, a journey that, while still treacherous, is being made easier by climate change. Pavel Toporov will recap his experiences guiding high-end Chinese tourists to the North and South Poles. Rebecca Wing-Yee Wong, a sociologist at Chinese University of Hong and expert in the illegal wildlife trade, will share her work on mammoth and elephant ivory trade.

On Day 2 (Friday 23 April), there will be a symposium featuring six sessions focusing on longer-term scientific models and policy aims to understand how scientists from Greater China are predicting the Arctic will appear in 2050. Special attention will be paid to the Greenland Ice Sheet and the Third Pole, or the Tibetan Plateau and the Himalayas, which store the third largest amount of frozen water after the Arctic and Antarctica. A closing plenary by Nengye Liu and Jan Jakub Solski (Norwegian Centre for the Law of the Sea, UiT/Arctic University of Norway) will delve into the future governance of the Polar Silk Road.

You can read more about the event and register for it here: https://www.china-arctic.net.

Acknowledgements: The symposium is fully supported by a grant from the National Natural Science Foundation of China/Research Grant Council Joint Research Scheme Sponsored by the Research Grants Council of the Hong Kong SAR, China (Project No. N_HKU768/20). The event is also a part of the University of the Arctic’s Thematic Network on the Arctic in Asia, Asia in the Arctic.

Categories: Asia & the Arctic

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