Living with Distant Masters
Chapter 2: Hong Kong’s historical trajectory
Hong Kong entered the modern world in the early eighteenth century – the territory was extracted by war from the Qing Empire; it provided a base for British traders; it provided a base for Chinese traders; two flows of inward migration settled the territory. It took the form of a colonial port city. Initially, a narrow elite made up of British colonial officials, expatriate traders and a small number of local business people ruled the colony. 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 local elite – now diverse – 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. A distinctive form of life took shape. After the Second World War the internal structure remained largely stable, relations with London benign, exchanges with Maoist China generally manageable. Over this period domestic reforms were made and not only did the territory prosper, it also began to create a distinct sense of itself – no longer a city of migrants and refugees, rather, it became the home to Hong Kong people. Today, after the 1997 transfer of power, commentators identify multiple problems both of domestic governance and in external relations with Beijing,; the one unsettled by popular discontent, the other clouded with uncertainty.
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