Negotiating for a Second Life: Indian Migration and Tailoring Businesses in Cold War Hong Kong (1950s-1970s)

Mr Katon Lee3,2

2University of Bristol, , United Kingdom, 3Hong Kong Baptist University

After the British Empire colonised Hong Kong in 1842, Indians in search of better living conditions chose to leave their hometowns and followed British footprints. Detaram Sakhrani Mohan (D.S. Mohan), born in 1912 in Hyderabad Sind, India, migrated to the colony to search for a job at 19. He first worked as a junior shop assistant in a garment corporate in 1931 and founded his own business eight years later. Benefiting from the American pursuit of tailor-made suits, Indians with English proficiency bridged American tourists with Hong Kong Chinese tailors. Mohan with such a language advantage received a considerable number of suit orders from American tourists and forwarded them to the Chinese tailors for fulfilment. This presentation, focussing on D.S. Mohan and his tailoring businesses, aims to illustrate how Indians took advantage of their vantage point to refashion their social status in the context of the Cold War. Using Mohan’s private collections, historical newspapers and oral history interviews, the research examines and illustrates how D.S. Mohan developed his tailoring businesses by closely collaborating with the American tourists and Chinese tailors. It argues that the class mobility of the Indians in Hong Kong not only represented the influence of the American tourists on the Indian community, but also signified the negotiation of a ‘second life’ and self-empowerment of the South Asians in the Cold War era.


Katon Lee is a Lecturer of History at the College of International Education, Hong Kong Baptist University. Lee actively engages in teaching and researching cultural history and Hong Kong studies. He is currently also pursuing a PhD in history at the University of Bristol with a particular focus on the cultural history of Hong Kong and China’s port cities. His PhD project is on the cultural engagement of Chinese communities with western clothing in colonial Hong Kong.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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