The conical Asian hat, known as a “rice hat,” “paddy hat” or even “coolie hat” originated in East and Southeast Asia, particularly China, Indonesia, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. While primarily used by civilians, the hat has been a military head dress and was used by Vietcong forces in the Vietnam War. But the conical hat was also used alongside the military sun helmet by Chinese and other native units. One in particular was the Hong Kong Police, which was established in 1844.
The official headdress varied according to ethnicity, with whites wearing kepis or sun helmets, Sikhs wore turbans and the Chinese wore the Conical Asian hat. Based on photographic evidence and what little has been documented about the helmets, these were traditionally made Chinese straw hats that were round in shape and featured a large crown on the front – likely the Queen Victoria Crown prior to 1902 and the King’s Crown thereafter.
This tradition also carried over to the Shanghai Municipal Police, where SMP wore uniforms that were basically British or British colonial in style. These were dark blue serge in winter with khaki drill in summer. Sikh personnel wore red turbans while Chinese members of the force were distinguished by a form of conical hat until about 1919. After this date Chinese and European police wore the same dark blue peaked cap with the coat of arms of the International Settlement as a badge. Pith helmets were worn in hot weather.
While not technically a “pith” helmet – as it was made of straw – the conical straw hat could be seen as a local “sun helmet.” It was used to keep the sun and rain off the wearer’s head.