School Memories: Hong Kong in the Seventies

This is a video I created documenting the school life of a secondary school in Hong Kong during the 1970s. It was produced for the school’s 40th anniversary celebrations and is intended to be the first in a series of promotional videos.

SKH Lam Woo Memorial Secondary School, where I work as an English teacher, opened in 1970.


Things I Learned

The video was an interesting project to work on because it gave me some insight into some of the changes that had taken place in Hong Kong since the 1970s. When editing the sports part, I used a lot of long shots (in terms of both distance and time) because the backgrounds were interesting. The community sports stadiums had dirt running tracks that seemed to be nestled up against tenement buildings. Some of the images feature what looks like a time-keeping van from the Omega watch company. Nowadays even the most basic stadiums have artificial tracks and automated time-keeping systems, and a lot of the tenement buildings seen in the photos have long since been torn down.

It was also interesting to see how the school rules have become more controlling over the years.  Nowadays, male students must keep their hair short, female students with shoulder-length hair or longer must tie it up and dresses must be below-the-knee (the teachers in the discipline section at our school our kept very busy monitoring uniforms and punishing offenders). In the photos from the 70s, in contrast, a lot of the boys have long hair, few girls have tied up their hair and the skirts are way above the knee.

People in Hong Kong in the seventies were also a lot more tanned! When I was retouching the photos, I was always thinking “”Why are the people so dark? Are my settings for brightness, exposure or levels wrong?” I eventually came to the conclusion that most students just had darker complexions back them. The seventies would have been before before PCs, widespread use of air-conditioning  and shopping malls in every district. There weren’t so many reasons to stay indoors, so my theory is that students were just outside more often. As well, in the last couple of decades the cosmetics industry in Asia has been focusing a lot more on skin-whitening products, emphasizing an existing cultural bias towards fair complexions.

It was fun to remember the 70s fashions. I’ve always been unfashionable, so I never got into any trends when I was growing up during the seventies, but it was interesting to see all those staples of 70s fashion—bell-bottoms (even the school uniform trousers were flared), long and wide collars and boldy patterned jackets.  There were also a couple of fashion trends that I don’t remember or that were unique to Hong Kong; I don’t recall eye-glasses being so big or white turtlenecks being so popular.

Here is a shorter video showing just the fashions:


Producing the Video

The video was edited using Premiere Pro CS4.

When editing the video, I aimed to create a nostalgic feeling by creating a montage of video footage and photographs of the school during the seventies accompanied by Hong Kong music from the 1970s. The first obstacle I encountered was that no such video footage exists. There are a few rolls of Super 8 film from 1980 (I will get some of these developed this summer) and a collection of video tapes starting from 1990.

The collection of photos was also problematic. There weren’t that many photos, most of them were unlabelled, a lot of them were tiny (just slightly larger than the size of passport photos) and many were in rough shape—covered with scratches, tears and dust marks. The negatives were in even greater disarray, so I chose to scan the photos using a flat-bed scanner set at a high resolution (600 dpi) and 200 percent of the original size. The resulting files were huge, but the large sizes made it easier to retouch the photos (I will also be able to crop the photos and prepare them for printing in the future).

The photos were retouched in Photoshop using various methods:

  • I adjusted the brightness, contrast and levels, sometimes altering things like exposure and gamma (and sometimes doing colour correction for the few colour photos). For some photos, the foreground was too light or dark so I would just select that area and adjust it.
  • All the photos needed noise reduction to reduce speckles, spots and scratches. This was done by adjusting the ‘dust and scratches filter’ setting  to get rid of the most ‘rubbish’ while preserving the facial features of the people in the photos (the despeckle filter didn’t have much effect). Then, the clone tool was used to remove the more noticeable defects. This was a laborious process of ‘cloning’ or copying nearby sections and then placing them on top of the defect. Occasionally, the smart blur feature was used to get rid of speckles on plain backgrounds (the backgrounds were selected using the magic want and magnetic lasso tools).
  • Sometimes drastic surgery was required. For, example if an image of someone was missing a right eye, the persons left eye would be copied and moved to the appropriate place, reversed and the surgery completed by using the nudge and/or clone tools to remove evidence of the operation.
  • A couple of  photos were covered in white spots produced by the light from the scanner highlighting the grain of the photo paper.  The technique used to remove most of the spots was to scan the same image upside down, rotate it 180 degrees, paste it as a layer over the original image, auto-align the two images and then change the blending mode to darken.

Some of the images needed to be rotated, but this was done in Premiere Pro because I did not want to worry about having to crop important parts of photos.



The music soundtrack includes English and Cantonese songs recorded in the seventies by Sam Hui (Hui Koon-kit), Paula Tsui (徐小鳳), The Wynners (溫拿), Frances Yip (葉麗儀) and Roman Tam (羅文). Needless to say, compiling the soundtrack required a fair amount of research. If you are interested in learning more about the music selected for the  video, I’ve written an article on that here: Soundtrack to School Memories in the Seventies.


~by longzijun


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5 thoughts on “School Memories: Hong Kong in the Seventies

  1. Regarding your comment on the students being darker before because of reasons which also pertain to that ever so known asian skin bios, I saw the same in South East Asia. Being a mixed raced western this once in Cambodia a make up artist made me look white, and I had to ask her to remove the make up in the end and give me my money back when I saw the result. When cultural just means that it’s prejudiced and backwards you do not have to respect one dime of it, it’s quite the opposite to that in fact! Cambodian women themselves have already gone through enough discrimination because they are tanned, for me to get there and accept to be whitened myself! I am moving to Hong Kong now and I swear to God that if someone does the same to me there I will snap like big freaking time!!
    Nice article by the way, very interesting indeed!

  2. Interesting post. I am dark-brown-skinned and was in Hong Kong just last week for vacation. It’s a very civilized place, technologically advanced and all that. However, the people though cultured and law-abiding tend to come across as ruder than Chinese mainlanders, which is probably because of their busy lives. The mainlanders seem to me to treat most foreigners with respect compared to Hong Kongers. It began with people at the customs asking a lot of questions about my intent of visit, how much cash I was carrying etc. Of course, I didn’t notice the Europeans being asked anything. When my Chinese girlfriend asked them why were they asking so many questions they stated that it was just random. Yep, very random. Then, the people serving at the restaurants hardly smiled. The people at stores didn’t even look you in the eye when you handed them cash.

    Progress at what cost?

  3. Quite a few people have complained about discriminatory treatment by custom’s officials. About staff behaviour at restaurants and shops–that is more or less the local style. I guess it is viewed as “not standing on ceremony” and as being more “sincere” (e.g., not saying ‘have a nice day’ when you really don’t care whether the customer has a nice day). Personally, I prefer friendlier service. Though there is still a lot of room for improvement, customer service is already a lot better that when I first came here about twenty years ago.


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