Hong Kong: Living with Distant Masters

  • Preston P
  • Preston P
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Hong Kong entered the modern world in the guise of a colonial port city. Its key trade goods were opium and labourers, the former imported for the vast Chinese market, the latter flow of people moving into Southeast Asia and also across the Pacific to the West Coast of America. Initially, the colony was ruled by a narrow elite made up of British colonial officials, expatriate traders and a small number of local business people. Participation in government was by invitation. The elite's attention was turned to the business of commerce, with the masses of the people left to their own devices. Over time, the make-up of the elite changed. Chinese businessmen, professionals and others became more influential amongst elite-level players. This diverse local elite found ways of running Hong Kong whilst dealing with the concerns of London and the more immediate and varied pressures flowing from its Qing neighbours. The colony prospered. Later its development trajectory was interrupted by the chaos of the Pacific War, but thereafter, its progress continued, augmented now by flows of inward migration and its awkward cold war era role as gateway to China. The internal structure remained largely stable, relations with London benign, exchanges with China generally manageable. Commentators have remarked on the low key, subdued politics of the colony; occasional riots aside, it seemed one way or another to work. But these same commentators now suggest that this situation has changed. Speaking of Hong Kong after the 1997 transfer of power, they identify multiple problems both of domestic governance and in external relations with Beijing: the one unsettled by popular discontent, the other clouded with uncertainty. All this is unfortunate, for as the experience of the old distant colonial power fades into memory, the political community of Hong Kong must both order its domestic affairs and deal with its new distant master if it is to continue its distinctive and prosperous pattern of life.




Preston, P. W., & Preston, P. W. (2017). Hong Kong: Living with Distant Masters. In Political Cultural Developments in East Asia (pp. 231–260). Palgrave Macmillan UK. https://doi.org/10.1057/978-1-137-57221-9_9

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