Greater China Legal History Seminar Series – ‘Chinese Customary Marriages and Concubinage in Hong Kong’ by Prof. Steven Gallagher (Online)
Soon after the establishment of the British colony of Hong Kong in 1843, Chinese customs of marriage and concubinage were received into the law of Hong Kong as analogous to Christian marriage, at least for some purposes. This reception included express statutory recognition, for example in developments of the Marriage Ordinance in various iterations, and by judicial recognition in the common law, for example the extension of the presumption of advancement to include concubines and secondary wives. There were also issues with recognition of some customary relationships, for example the custom of buying and selling young girls as mui tsai or “little sisters”. Concerns about unacceptable customary practices, including but not solely because of concerns about the rights of women, eventually saw them restricted and most were effectively abolished by The Marriage Reform Ordinance (Cap. 178) on its implementation on 7 October 1971. However, there are still a number of cases before the courts of Hong Kong every year when the status of a party, or the mother or grandmother of a party, as the Kit Fat wife, the Tin Fong wife, a party to a Kim Tiu marriage, or as tsip or concubine will be central to the dispute. This seminar will consider how Chinese custom was recognised and is still recognised in the law of Hong Kong for certain relationships and the continued importance of this recognition.
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