Herbert Edward Lanepart (2): Bringing Nudism to Hong Kong

When Sir Robert Ho-Tung – one of most prominent Eurasian residents of Hong Kong and the only ‘non-white’ allowed to live legally on the Peak – arrived in Singapore on his way to London in the spring of 1932 it was natural for him to talk to The Straits Times. What is surprising, though, is that amongst the topics he discussed one was the activities and likely success of a small Hong Kong ‘cult’ that probably had fewer than 30 members. That ‘cult’ – the word was accepted by its leader – was the Hong Kong Nudist Society. Sir Robert assured the people of Singapore that, in his view, Chinese public opinion was ‘very strong against the mixing of the sexes’ advocated by ‘a section of the European population, with a Mr. H. E. Lanepart as their head’. ‘It’s too much ahead of the times’ was his ‘personal opinion’. Asked about the island that Lanepart’s group were currently trying to acquire, he said, with a smile, that this was an excellent idea but it remained to be seen if they would succeed.[1]When The Hongkong Telegraph picked up the story a week later it left out Sir Robert’s opinions on such things as the controversial ‘mu tsai’ system and the weighty matter of the economic effects of the boycott of Japanese goods to report only his views on Nudism and the not unrelated subject of the need for the Chinese girl to balance modernity and tradition.[2] It seems that in the spring of 1932 Lanepart’s ‘nudist cult’ was extremely interesting to people in Hong Kong and elsewhere in the Far East.

In my previous post I sketched Lanepart’s involvement in bringing Theosophy to the Colony. In 1928 he was appointed to what seems to have been an important role in the Far Eastern movement, and the online press records a number of lectures he gave to the local Lodge in that year. I’ve not yet been able to find any record of Theosophical activity after 1928, except for a donation to the movement he made in memory of its deceased leader Annie Besant in 1934. This shows that his two enthusiasms ran alongside each other for a couple of years, but it seems clear that between 1928 and the founding of the Hong Kong Nudist Society in March 1932 his main focus was switching.

My guess is that information about his plans had already reached the Hongkong Daily Press in February when they despatched a reporter eager for ‘knocking copy’ to the YMCA to ask if it was true that male non-members had to bathe there naked while members were permitted to wear a slip. The YMCA had ‘not turned nudist’ and the embattled secretary said the reason was purely hygienic – fluff could contaminate and dyes dirty the water. He admitted that the ‘mythical’ lady with a telescope could see the bathers from the Peninsula Hotel, but didn’t think that was a problem ‘in these advanced days’.[3] He was wrong. An organisation devoted to nudism in a place far distant from Kowloon’s chief hotel would soon be perceived as a problem indeed.

We can be certain that the Daily Press had advanced knowledge five days later when it published a mocking poem (‘Why I’m A Nudist’) and announced ‘rumours’ that the Island would soon be visited by ‘this King of modern cults’. The poet had been assured that his desire to see naked women would soon disappear and then he’d be able to concentrate on sun and ‘general health’,[4] something he obviously didn’t believe. The YMCA article and the satirical poem set the tone for the Colony’s response.

On March 8 the Daily Press ended all doubts as to what was in store by publishing a notice they’d got hold of: they included the words ‘Private and Confidential’ in their report and offered readers the chance to inspect the original. The accompanying text made it clear that the society was real not just ‘mythical’ as some had obviously suspected or hoped. The notice summoned sympathisers who supported ‘MIXED nude culture’ to a meeting at the reserved Meeting Room of the Lane Crawford Restaurant in the Exchange Building. The meeting was at 6 pm. sharp on Thursday, March 10 and its main purpose was to formally set up the Society. Those not in favour of ‘MIXED nude culture’ were not invited; the founders had received 45 written applications all but 2 in favour of mixed nudism and 25 verbal applications all for mixed nudism. Those interested were expected to attend and asked to bring along friends ‘IN FAVOUR OF MIXED NUDISM’ and ladies were especially asked to be present.[5]

The capitalisation is all in the original and, alongside the special invitation to females, the emphasis on ‘mixed’ nakedness must have confirmed the suspicions of some Hong Kong residents about Lanepart’s true motives. My guess is that in fact it related to issues in the ideology of the nudist movement, something I’ll discuss below.

The next day the paper published a letter protesting the publication of private material; Lanepart signed himself ‘for and on behalf of the Founders’ Group, Hong Kong Nude Culture Association (in Formation)’.[6] ‘Nude Culture’ is obviously a translation of Nacktkultur, and it was in Germany that the ideas and organisations of nudism had most strongly taken root.

In the next day’s paper the correspondent ‘Occidental’ took up the issue in a letter opining that nudism, although its supporters touted its ‘hygienic benefits’ had no place in a mixed race colony like Hong Kong, and the Government should deny all facilities to a group whose practices were considered ‘wholly distasteful’ by 99% of the population.[7] He was probably right about that.

Nevertheless it seems that over 40 people including six women attended the meeting on March 10, although only 21 (3 women) joined.[8] But the meeting itself had seen more mockery of the about-to-be-formed group. Two days later The Hongkong Telegraph reported that a well-known rugby player had infiltrated the ‘sacred precincts of the nudists’ meeting’ in drag, getting himself introduced to Lanepart and welcomed as one of the most promising of the female nudists.[9]

On March 14 Lanepart made the first statement I’ve been able to find of the ideological underpinnings of his commitment to nudism. The Hongkong Telegraph reported that the Government had not yet received an application from the society to rent beach space so couldn’t yet state its attitude to ‘the Hongkong Nudist movement’ or to the specific issue of renting them a beach. Lanepart, however, was ‘hopeful’; an official had told him there were many stretches of beach on Lantau, Lama (sic) and Ma Wan islands that were a long way from any dwellings. He even believed that a sympathetic Government might drop the rent to a nominal $10 a year for 40, 000 square feet, and he told the reporter he’d ideally like as much as half  a million square feet; the Society would like to erect matsheds over an area of 500 square feet of the area leased to them. He stressed the society was for the ‘earnest-minded’ only and he had no wish for the ‘foolish and frivolous’ to join. The reporter summarised Lanepart’s general view of the purposes of the Society:

It was their intention to practise the cult as it was being done in Germany and other parts of the world, namely by the playing of athletics, games and gymnastics.

In Germany the cult was very advanced and was part and parcel of the daily lives of the people.

The Society hoped to make it as essential to the people in Honkgkong. Not only had the movement a huge recreation ground of forests, fields and meadows in Berlin, but once a week the members of the Society gave mixed swimming demonstrations in one of the public baths.

When questioned, Lanepart admitted he didn’t plan to bring such mixed swimming displays to Hong Kong, as the people were ‘too frightened’. However, he would have nothing to do with allegations of  prurience as a motivation for mixed nudity:

The objects of the Society were to take serious-minded people away from the turmoil of the city and allow them to get back to a natural state of life.

He felt the Government would be sympathetic because of the ‘progressive and healthy’ objects of the movement.[10]

In other words, to Lanepart nudism was part of a general culture of the body that constituted a key plank in a program of ‘returning to nature’, a program that was expected to restore proper functioning and good health to people whose minds and bodies had been weakened by the urbanisation and industrialisation of the nineteenth century. The origins of this movement lie in European Romanticism, most evidently in Rousseau’s famous dictum that God makes all things good but human meddling turns them to evil, and in the turn towards nature, spontaneity and the virtues of rural living that this and similar ideas engendered in late eighteenth century western European culture. Rousseau did not, as some people believe, have a simple concept of ‘the Noble Savage’, but he did think that the bodies (if not the minds) of those who lived in pre-modern conditions had a strong tendency to be stronger and healthier than those who swarmed in the over-crowded urban ant-heaps and who were softened by the comforts and conveniences of modernity. As we shall see, Lanepart added a distinctively early twentieth century twist to such ideologies.

Interest in the Society continued, even though it did so little that Lanepart had to refute allegations they were running scared. On April 4, 1932 The Telegraph announced that Lanepart dreamt of a nudist island within Hong Kong’s territory with himself as Governor. He denied being in hiding, saying that his group was extremely active behind the scenes and was planning a branch in Macao and eventually ones in Shanghai and Tientsin. Meanwhile they were waiting for the Government’s reply to their application for lease of an island. Perhaps not fully seriously, Lanepart declared that when they’d got their island they’d set up a colony there with a minister for public works, an admiral of the fleet and other positions. He estimated they could get 10,000 people on the one he had in mind. Applications, he said, had made to the Government on March 22 and repeated on April 1. The location of the future island kingdom was a secret.[11] On April 5, 1932 Lanepart wrote to the China Mail from a PO Box address denying a report in another newspaper that the Government had turned down the society’s application.[12] (The Hongkong Daily Press of the same day made such an announcement on page 9). It seems that the Society at some point got their island, although I can find nor reference to this in Lanepart’s time;[13] this development probably didn’t take place until the 1950s when the Society, now rebranded as the less confrontational Hong Kong Sunbathing Association,[14] met on a beach at Ma Wan Island.[15]

On April 18, 1932 the correspondent ‘Matron’ objected to Lanepart’s statement that only the clergy opposed nudism. She had talked to many women and, although everyone was aware of the virtues of sunbathing, they felt ‘loathing’ at the idea of doing it alongside men. Her main objection was aesthetic and based on the rather unattractive impression likely to be made by those no longer young. The editor congratulated her on her ‘excellent’ letter and assured her that anyone caught in the nude would be treated like any other criminal.[16] I haven’t been able to find Lanepart’s original statement, but assuming it’s been accurately quoted, it tells us that part of his ideological commitment to nudism came from a belief that it represented a challenge to the forces of traditional morality represented most strongly by the church. I’ll have more to say about this below.

Part of Lanepart’s pitch was simpler and less embattled: in a letter to the China Mail (which was also picked up by the Straits Times) he described the beauties of the nudists’ site, hinted at ambitious plans for matsheds and tennis courts, and ended by invoking ‘mixed nudism in lovely surroundings, away from dusty crowds and unhealthy, wet clothing’ (China Mail, May 10, 1932, page 6). Nudism here is not presented as the product of a life force that it then goes on to strengthen but as a pleasant activity that promoted health – the reference to ‘wet’ clothing was a reminder that Hong Kong’s humid and unpleasant high summer wasn’t far away.

But whatever the rationale it offered for its activities,  as the year wore on it seemed as if the Society still wasn’t doing very much. On September 2, 1932, The Daily Press published an account by Lanepart of how his movement differed from the Doukhobors – a Russian group that practised religiously-inspired nudism – and gave details of a leaflet Lanepart had sent them. It seemed that members had to be ‘approved’ by the Society and sign a declaration of sympathy with ‘Simultaneous Nude Sun- Water- and Air- bathing of both sexes in special recreation grounds’. They also had to profess a friendly attitude towards the Hong Kong Society, and promise not to leak unauthorised details of its activities to the press.

On September 6, 1932 the China Mail assured its readers on its front page that the Hong Kong Nudist Society existed ‘in reality as well as in name’. It was claimed that there were over 40 members, including women, both European and Chinese. The men were said to be mainly Chinese, Russian and Portuguese, although some Britishers had signed up. The sect had held two meetings since its foundation, and there was obviously particular interest in the fact that women were said to be members and that some had attended the first excursion although, it was reported, definitely not the second. The organisation owed its existence to Lanepart’s ‘enthusiastic belief in the beneficial effect of the sun’s rays upon the human body’ and it was said to be much like those recently founded in Germany, Russia, Britain and elsewhere. Readers were told that the Society had failed to get government building permission or any land grant from the administration. Instead, Lanepart had arranged to rent land from a farmer in Tai Wan – Plot no. 388 at Lock Pick Sheung near Cheung Sheung Fan in the NewTerritories. It seemed that the failure to provide suitable facilities was holding back the many women who had expressed interest.

Parts of the article are an interesting blend of mockery and the idyllic:

The camping place is in a valley bounded by the river Shingmun and almost completely encircled by the rough, barren hills with entrance well-hidden from the main road…. {Those admitted as members are} privileged to strip and dip in the cool stream that runs through the hidden valley of Lock Pick Sheung or to play in Old Sol’s rays.[17]

The idea of escaping the stresses of modernity and the ugliness of cities to frolic in a romantic ‘hidden valley’ obviously had at least a degree of appeal to the reporter.

In any case, the article makes it clear that fears about the deliberate or even accidental offending of public sensibilities were misplaced: you needed a guide to get to the site and the danger even of ‘spies and evil-minded sight-seers’ finding their way there was minimal. And, according to Lanepart, the possibility of infiltration by the ‘Peeping Toms’ correspondents sometimes worried about was also guarded against because you had to answer questions to join: are you an idealist, a sportsman with a well-developed physique, a person of position and respected in the Colony? I doubt that this line of defence was quite as effective though!

The article ends with the assurance that although officialdom frowned, ‘Nudism persists in the Colony’.

So great was public interest even after half a year at rather a low level of activity that even the failure to hold an outing attracted a short notice on the front page: the third planned outing to Lock Pick Sheung didn’t go ahead because no members turned up at Kowloon Railway Station, perhaps realising that the river that had to be crossed to reach the site had been made swollen and impassable by recent rains.[18]

How small the group holding the Colony’s attention was becomes clear from a report of the outing of October 2, 1932 which revealed that the cult (Lanepart’s own word) had shrunk from 8 active members at the September peak to a mere 4, all male. It seems that the founder would attempt to round up the women before the train left but thus far without any success. The only participants, according to this reporter, had been young Chinese males, and one Eurasian who admitted he was only going out of curiosity had dropped out. The members left Kowloon soon after 1 p.m. and returned at 7.30 giving about 5 hours at the site, which remained unimproved in spite of Lanepart’s ambitious plans. The activities were a dip in the pool and sun-bathing. A ‘juvenile gallery’ of locals assembled to watch, but the village elders were unperturbed and haven’t made the expected complaint.[19]

The China Mail interviewed Lanepart on November 9, 1932. In spite of his less than stunning achievements so far, he spoke of nudism’s ‘bright future’ in the Colony and claimed over 100 members, 75% of whom were European – but due to their ‘inherent shyness’ these members, although they arranged private nudist parties, didn’t attend meetings in such numbers as the Chinese, who were every enthusiastic. In fact, Lanepart asserted, it was the Chinese especially young Chinese girls who ‘pushed the movement’. This claim is even harder to believe than the membership figures. Nevertheless, Lanepart envisaged that the Chinese would soon form their own group as part of a centralised China movement, but that depended on the attitude of the Central Government which at the moments seemed ‘very narrow-minded where morality is concerned’. Nudism, he said, depended on each person’s ability to enjoy ‘complete rest’; it was a ’new kind of recreation’. At one point he launched an assault that tells us a lot more about his ideological commitments:

The European girls will never join the society as a mass. They are too selfish. The European girls of the Colony are sick with lifelessness, wrong ideas and social inhibitions. They have little life of their own, they are just puppets, not much good for life’s purposes because they are full of their own narrow-minded and selfish plans, gold-digging and dancing.

If there was some high social advantage to be reaped from nudism, then they would attend our meetings.[20]

Ideas of the ‘life force’ were common in the first half of the twentieth century (similar concepts abound: élan vital, Odic force, vital spark, Orgone Energy, even the Freudian Id…). Perhaps the exponent of such an ideology most familiar to British readers is D. H. Lawrence, who in 1926 published a story called ‘Sun’ in which a sick middle-class woman discovers the power of giving herself naked to the sun (the story actually ends tragically as this power has its limits in a generally diseased society). Lawrence’s last complete work Apocalypse (1929-30) ends with words that are simply a more eloquent expression of the sentiments Lanepart was to offer to the readers of The China Mail a few years later:

What we want is to destroy our false, inorganic connections, especially those related to money, and re-establish the living organic connections, with the cosmos, the sun and earth, with mankind and nation and family. Start with the sun, and the rest will slowly, slowly happen.

The counterpoising of the vital force, warmed into more intense power by the sun, to the anti-life restraints of ‘morality’ – represented in Lanepart’s case by the Chinese Authorities and the Christian clergy of Hong Kong – is a familiar theme of such thinkers. Clothes come to represent social convention and psychic inhibition; they not only promote sickness (by blocking the energy of the sun and perhaps interfering with freedom of movement) but they’re only there in the first place because the wearer is already weak and diseased. Lanepart’s phrase ‘not much good for life’s purposes’ sums up Lawrence’s attitude to many of his characters, most notoriously Lady Chatterley’s crippled husband Clifford. And my guess is that Lanepart’s stress on ‘mixed’ nudism stemmed not from a prurient interest in the unclad female body but from his belief that anything less was a capitulation of ‘life’ to ‘morality’. I’m not, by the way, trying to suggest he was an avid reader of Lawrence’s novels – he more likely got his ideas from German sources – but that nudism was never just about taking off your clothes or the role of the sun in promoting physical health. It linked in to a set of ideas about ‘life’ that were influential in the first half of the twentieth century, and which, like Lanepart’s earlier Theosophical enthusiasm, survives now in much ‘New Age’ thinking.

Majority opinion in the Colony, of course, had a different view: on July 1, 1932 a Chinese man was reported to have gone naked in West Point; he was certified insane, but the headline was ‘Nudist in West Point’.[21] Taking off your clothes in public could be seen as a sign not of psychic freedom and the desire to participate more strongly in an all-pervading life force, but of mental imbalance. Perhaps strangely a Prussian ban on Nudism made the front page of The China Mail in August, but, given the background described in this post, it’s easy to see why the editor wanted to highlight the Reuter’s report:

The Nudist Cult has been described by prominent Germans as a form of modern savagery

The report labelled nudism a sign of ‘savagery’ seen not as noble but as a ‘demoralising’ falling away from civilisation. [22] The story also revealed some of the more concrete anxieties behind Hong Kong’s reaction: servants were said to be insisting on doing their work naked, and nudists were sometimes erupting into public spaces and causing ‘consternation or excitement’.

On September 9, 1932 the same paper published two hostile letters, one from ‘Disgusted’, suggesting that no ‘European worthy of the name’ was involved with Hong Kong nudism, and that no ‘decent European’ ever would get involved. The writer believed that Lanepart should be put under some form of ‘restraint’. He referred to the Society’s ‘lewd, naked exhibitions in the NewTerritories’ and suggested that the average European viewed the society with ‘mild amusement, tinctured with disgust’. A number of points are worth noting; ‘Disgusted’ obviously saw a proper attitude towards clothing as a mark of civilisation, and civilisation as a necessary attribute of proper European-ness. If the report of September 6 was his source, or was accurate and matched the writer’s private information, then Portuguese and Russians were not considered Europeans ‘worthy of the name’. Further, parts of the NewTerritories were still wild in the 1930s, and this area of the Colony clearly featured in the mind of ‘Disgusted’ as the kind of place appropriate to ‘savage’ behaviour like nudism.  It’s worth remembering when we consider Lanepart’s eventual Nazism (discussed below) that both as Theosophist and nudist activist he was working alongside (and in the first case under the leadership of) people who were not, to quote a phrase common at the time, ‘of pure European descent’ and that it probably wasn’t only ‘Disgusted’ who looked down on him for it. One nudist source suggests that the failure of Lanepart’s organisation in its first five years was because it only attracted Continental Europeans and had no ‘British or native Chinese’ supporters;  although undocumented, this claim is plausible (http://phpcdnpp.truenudists.com/forum/viewthread.php?id=25365&page=1).

The other correspondent (‘Anti-Nude’) thought that sexual interest was the main element in leading people to become nudists, and was also vexed by the question of race, forecasting ‘racial and temperamental conflicts’ if Lanepart were to bring about the ‘conditions’ he favoured in a ‘cosmopolitan’ place like Hong Kong.[23] If I’ve understood ‘Anti-Nude’ correctly, he felt that if Europeans took to walking around Victoria in the nude (as we have seen that was far from Lanepart’s plan, at least in the short term) then they would be likely to attack both by introverts and by more conservative ‘races’ like the Chinese. This was another way of playing the inevitable Hong Kong race card: Europeans were an advanced race, and in some cases this had led to moral decay, and it was the job of the responsible authorities to protect more conservative races like the Chinese from these degenerates. The failure of the village elders at Lock Pick Sheung to put in the expected complaint must have been a grave disappointment to some.

It seems that by the winter of 1932 – when presumably the Nudist Society was inactive – public interest had waned. It flared up again briefly in the summer of 1933 when the press took a few final kicks at Lanepart’s organisation.

On July 8, 1933 the Telegraph reported the opposition by a silk-merchant when he heard that the cult was to be imported to Shanghai from Hong Kong by ‘an enterprising foreigner’.[24] At about the same time The China Mail sent a reporter to Lanepart’s ‘paradise’ at Lock Pick Sheung. The article began on the front page and spilled over – ironically it claimed that, in spite of the importance this suggests, Lanepart was the only ‘visible member of the cult in Hong Kong’. The reporter says that the ‘gathering’ began with five people: Lanepart, a man from Canton who was setting up a similar enterprise there, his ‘lady friend’, and the two reporters. At one point a lady and her companion arrived, but left ‘rather hurriedly’, perhaps after seeing a three inch leech attached to Lanepart’s body. It seems she wanted to wear a bathing suit, but Lanepart was ‘adamant’ in wanting her to stick to the rules of the society. There had been reports had earlier visits by Russian and French women, although Lanepart said that was the first visit by a female.[25]

The reporter considered that the retreat grounds were still as ‘bare and stony’ as at the same time last year when the plot was rented from the villagers with the Crown’s permission. The ambitious scheme for a tennis court was shelved but a little work had been done by the swimming pool. Two notice boards warning uninvited visitors that the ground was leased to the nudist society were innovations. ‘A tent, a pair of water-wings and a ball are the only other possessions of the Society,’ concluded the reporter, although he added that Lanepart provided nudist magazines in German and French. Lanepart asked the reporter not to be misled by appearances and claimed nudism was progressing. Several high officials – whom he could not name – were members. The reader would be forgiven for thinking that the Society was effectively dead.

On August 5, 1933 the Daily Press reported with considerable satisfaction that Canton had followed Shanghai in taking measures to ‘suppress’ nudism:

In Hong Kong it {Nudism} is languishing and its life hangs, in appropriately (sic), by a thread.[26]

On May 16, 1934 it was reported that J. P. Braga had asked questions of the authorities about the proposed screening of a nudist film in the Colony with a view to getting it banned.[27] The reply was that no such application had been received and that it would not be screened unless it passed the censorship,[28] which it failed to do next month.[29]  What’s interesting is that the story is reported without any reference to the Hong Kong Society. Similarly, in October 1934 a long report on the first British national nudist conference makes no reference to Lanepart’s group.[30] Nevertheless, an  a report on another subject shows us that he was still a well-known figure in 1934.

In June of that year tKowloon’s Marcel Buffet was sued by Frank Lewiston Adamson, a former employee.[31] The China Mail account of the evidence given on June 27 has a complex set of headlines: at the top is ‘Remarkable Evidence In The Marcel Buffet Case’ and immediately below it we read ‘Mr. Lanepart Wears Long Trousers At The Request Of Court’; the next three headlines refer to the main evidence  The article itself re-iterates this apparently significant point:

Mr. Lanepart, who appeared in long trousers in deference to wishes of the court, was the next witness.

I think this shows that Lanepart usually wore shorts, as I doubt that the Court feared he’d turn up with no clothes at all. It seems that he was eager to have his say:

He had his volubility checked several times by both counsel.

His evidence tells us a little more about his background and his circumstances in 1934:

He stated that he was formerly given free meals and a salary to look after the books of the Marcel Café.

The picture that emerges from Lanepart’s testimony seems to me strongly in his favour. Adamson was suing Nathan Blumethal, the owner of the Marcel Café, for breach of contract, while Blumenthal claimed he’d dismissed his former manager for solid reasons. Lanepart was a strong supporter of Adamson; at one point he’d gone with Blumenthal, then his boss, to see a solicitor and was unable to stop himself bursting out with, ‘The whole trouble is that Mr. Blumenthal wants everything for himself’. He was dismissed soon after – Lanepart suggested that Blumenthal had waited until he’d presented a statement of accounts before sacking him.[32] If this is an accurate account, then Lanepart lost his job because he couldn’t stop himself telling his employer the truth as he saw it and standing up for a man he admired. But it’s significant that the headline singles out his long trousers not his integrity, and that neither the sub-editor nor the reporter felt the need to tell the reader why this was being mentioned. Lanepart seems to have been well-known in the Colony, and thought of as a reasonable subject of (albeit mild) mockery; some of the things I’ve quoted suggest that this was not something he went out of his way to avoid.

I have been able to find few traces of him after 1934 either in Hong Kong or in the wider field.

He wrote an article (‘Hong Kong Nudists Confront Tradition’) in the second volume of Sun and Health, whose first 12 volumes published a cumulative index in Volume 14, 1950; [33] this would suggest Volume 2 came out in 1936/7.

Evidence of the continuing existence of the Hong Kong Society comes in 1936. In May of that year two copies of an American nudist magazine were taken by the police from their owners (one of whom ran a bookstall on the Star Ferry wharf). The copies were returned as not obscene under the Act and the Magistrate objected to Lanepart’s use of the term ‘ban’ in a letter he wrote to the Inspector General of Police.[34]

I’ll conclude by discussing the passage that first told me about Lanepart’s existence:

A few Nazis were in sight. {As the defeated Hong Kong defenders were being taken into captivity.} One in particular, a man named Lanepart who had been founder of the Hongkong Nudist Society, strutted the streets beside us with the swastika band about his arm; in spite of his lofty stride, I had seen the photographs taken at his headquarters before the battle and I knew him to be just a dirty-minded idiot.[35]

I don’t know if ‘headquarters’ means the site at Lock Pick Sheung or if Lanepart had some kind of urban presence too – I would guess the former.

In my first post on Lanepart I dismissed as absurd suggestions that in some way his Theosophy led to his Nazi sympathies (if that’s what they were, a point I discuss below) – but how about his advocacy of nudism?

Strangely enough, nudist activity was politicised from an early stage; I’ll give a very simple account of a complex issue. Some of that Vitalist/Life Force thinking I discussed above, and some of the suspicion of modernity as well, did play into fascistic ideology, and, more directly, some nudists stressed that their work was designed to produce a healthy Aryan race. There were, however, also socialist nudist organisations – and Lanepart’s use of the word ‘progressive’ with regard to nudism might just suggest he supported them. The socialists soon fell into line after the Nazi takeover in January 1933, and, after some initial persecution, nudism was accepted and even to some extent promoted by the Nazi authorities – although nudist organisations continued to be harassed in some places because it was suspected they harboured Marxists! [36] Perhaps Lanepart was influenced by developments in Nazi Germany, perhaps he wasn’t, but in any case, there is no natural or inevitable link between nudism and Nazism.

Proulx’s image of this intriguing figure is a sad one to be left with. He clearly implies Lanepart had come along to gloat over the defeated, and, however much he’d been mocked for activities that now seem completely innocuous, it’s an unattractive picture. And of course support for Nazism at any time, but more particularly during the war, can only receive one kind of judgement. But how much can we deduce from Proulx’s description?

Well, it’s perfectly possible that the former Theosophist and proponent of nudism had become a Nazi, and it’s equally possible he’d come along that day to enjoy the humiliation of the defeated. However, unless Lanepart was actually goose-stepping, his ‘strut’ and ‘lofty stride’ are a matter of perception not of objective fact. And wearing a swastika in the early days of occupied Hong Kong might well have been done for personal safety rather than out of ideological sympathy; it could even have been part of a campaign to keep the wearer out of internment (his true nationality is uncertain, but he doesn’t seem to have been German, which would have guaranteed his freedom, and one possibility is Australian, in which case he’d have needed to make some kind of case for himself if he wanted to be allowed to stay on the streets). Finally, in the sources available to me, which are admittedly extremely meagre, I’ve not come across a single instance of an Axis national (other than a Japanese) doing any harm to an Allied citizen in occupied Hong Kong, and a number of instances of help being extended. Even if Lanepart did end up a Nazi, and indeed came along to gloat, we don’t know what he did thereafter.

Proulx is a reliable observer and his account is all the information I currently have on Lanepart during the war and it must be taken seriously. But, as so often in writing these two posts, I find myself very aware of the importance of not jumping to conclusions.


[2] Hongkong Telegraph, April 21, 1932, page 7.

[3] Hongkong Daily Press, February 19, 1932, page 6.

[4] Hongkong Daily Press, February 24, 1932, page 10.

[5] Hongkong Daily Press, March 8, 1932, page 6.

[6] Hongkong Daily Press, March 9, 1932, page 8

[7] Hongkong Daily Press, March 10, 1932, page 6.

[8] Hongkong Telegraph, March 11, 1932, page 22.

[9] Hongkong Telegraph, March 12, 1932, page 14.

[10] Hongkong Telegraph, March 14, 1932, pages 1 and 7.

[11] Hongkong Telegraph, April 4, 1932, page 1.

[12] China Mail, April 6, 1932, page 6.

[16] Hongkong Daily Press, April 18, 1932, page 5.

[17] China Mail, September 6, 1932, page 1.

[18] China Mail, September 12, 1932, page 1.

[19] China Mail, October 3, 1932, pages 1 and 5.

[20] China Mail, November 10, 1932, pages 1 and 7.

[21] China Mail, July 1, 1932, page 12.

[22] China Mail, August 13, 1932, page 1.

[23] China Mail, September 9, 1932, page 6.

[24] Hongkong Telegraph, July 8, 1933, page 9.

[25] China Mail, July 10, 1933, pages 1 and 7 (mislabelled 8).

[26] Hongkong Daily Press, August 5, 1933, page 7.

[27] China Mail, May 16, 1934, page 9; Hongkong Daily Press, page 7.

[28] Hongkong Daily Press, May 18, 1934, page

[29] Hongkong Daily Press, June 15, 1934, page 5.

[30] Hong Kong Telegraph, October 1, 1934, pages 1 and 7.

[31] Hongkong Telegraph, June 27, 1934, page 11.

[32] Hongkong Telegraph, June 27, 1934, page 11.

[34] Hongkong Telegraph, May 28, 1936, page 5.

[35] Bennie Proulx, Underground From Hong Kong, 1943, 130.

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