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The Legacy of the British Administration of Hong Kong: A View from Hong Kong

  • Ming K. Chan
Extract

As the one and a half centuries of British colonial rule draw to a close on 30 June 1997, it is timely to review the true legacy of British administration in Hong Kong. It would be naive to resort to any simplistic blanket judgment or to issue any sweeping endorsement or condemnation on the mixed record of the British administration. It would also be dangerous to look only at the attainments in the final days of the British regime and use them to reconstruct, or even to substitute for, the full span of British rule. Even given a charitable view of this sunset era of the British regime as its finest hour in Hong Kong, a more informed and balanced assessment of its past deeds must be appreciated in the fuller context of the actual inputs and outputs of British officialdom in shaping developments in the territory and the life of Hong Kong people during the entire course of British rule.

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References
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1 Christopher Patten, The 1996 Policy Address, Hong Kong: Transition(2 October 1996). This was his last policy address as Governor.

2 Peter Duft, Mak Findlay, Carla Howarth and Tsang-fai Chan, Juries: A Hong Kong Perspective(Hong Kong: Hong Kong Univeristy Press, 1992), pp. 53,57,58. Of the 143,798 names on the 1987 List, two-thirds are Chinese and the others mainly European, Australian and North American.

3 A recent advocate for reform of the legal profession and education is Anthony Dicks, “Will the laws converge?” the Hong Kong Lecture, University of Hong Kong, 1996.

4 Peter Wesley-Smith, “Anti-Chinese legislation in Hong Kong,” in Chan, Ming K.(ed.), Precarious Balance: Hong Kong Between China and Britain, 1842–1992 (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1994).

5 The author is fully indebted to Norman Miners on this issue; see his “The use and abuse of emergency powers by the Hong Kong Government,” Hong Kong Law Journal, Vol. 26 (1996), pp. 47–57.

6 Before the Hong Kong government's enactment of an ordinance on film censorship in 1986, its film censorship had been without proper legal authority; see Michael C. Davis, “Free speech in comparative perspective: the case of Hong Kong,” paper presented at the 40th Annual Meeting, Association for Asian Studies, San Francisco, 25 March 1988

7 The regime's “dirty tricks” targeted pressure groups and politicians; see Robert, Adley, All Change Hong Kong(Poole, Dorset: Blandford Press, 1984).

8 James T. H. Tang, vWorld War to Cold War: Hong Kong's future and Anglo-Chinese interactions, 1941–55,” in Chan, Precarious Balance, pp. 120–21.

9 For a recent expose on the misdeeds of senior expatriate legal officials, see Hong Kong Economic Journal, 19 September 1996, p. 15. The relatively low conviction rate in cases handled by the Legal Department, as pointed out in the Report of the Director of Audit on the Results of Value for Money Audit(October 1996), ch. 7, reflected partly the legal staffs incompetence.

10 Christopher Harris, a senior Crown Counsel, was convicted of sexual offences. Ta Kung Pao(Dagong bao), 22 February 1990. Warwick Reid, a Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions, was convicted of corruption and several lawyers were implicated. South China Morning Post, 21 June and 2 September 1990; Far Eastern Economic Review, 28 June 1990.

11 Supreme Court judge Patrick O'Dea made international news after admitting reading a book while presiding over a robbery trial. Hsu, Berry F. C., The Common Law System in Chinese Context(Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1992), p. 64.

12 Judge Brian Caird withdrew from the Aaron Nattrass case on 3 September 1996 on medical grounds and retracted his earlier allegations of being improperly pressured. Yet the internal judicial inquiry which found no pressure had been applied was regarded as a massive “cover-up” staged by the judiciary and left a host of questions unanswered. See South China Morning Post, 24,28 August, 6,26 September, 15 October; Hong Kong Standard, 25 August, 4,11, 25–27 September, 2, 13, 15, 16 October; Sing Tao Daily, 4 September 1996.

13 The damage was not only Yang's expression of doubts about the overriding effect of the Bill of Rights. Yang apparently violated judicial independence by bowing to executive pressure and submitted a report explaining his view to Chief Secretary Anson Chan. See Berry Hsu, “Judicial development of Hong Kong on the eve of 1 July 1997,” in Chan, Ming K.and Postiglione, Gerard A.(eds.), The Hong Kong Reader: Passage to Chinese Sovereignty(Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1996), p. 82.

14 In late August 1996 while on long leave, Yang announced his intention to run for the HKSAR chief executive post. It was not until 5 September that he submitted his resignation as Chief Justice to the Governor to be effective on 4 November. Although Yang did not resume active duty on the bench after his announcement, he still enjoyed his perks as Chief Justice while involved in his campaign until 27 October 1996, his revised day of effective resignation. See Sing Too Daily, 4, 7, 26 September, 29 October 1996.

15 Hong Kong Judiciary 1994–1995 (Hong Kong: Government Printers, 1996), p. 18. For a more detailed critique of the problems in the British colonial legal system, see Chan, Ming K., “The imperfect legacy: defects in the British legal system in colonial Hong Kong,University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Economic Law, Vol. 18, No. 1 (1997), pp. 133156

16 Sing Tao Daily, 23 November 1996; South China Morning Post, 23 November 1996. The recent court rulings found seven areas of the government's localization measures unfair and discriminatory to the affected expatriate officials. The Association of Local Senior Civil Servants regards the rulings as the “perpetuation of discrimination” against local personnel “under the name of human rights.” Sing Tao Daily, 2 December 1996; Hong Kong Economic Journal, 30 November 1996.

17 In the 1980s, the UK led the drive in the EEC quota on Hong Kong textile imports, while “foreign students” fees were charged to Hong Kong students in UK universities.

18 Chan, Ming K., “Labor vs Crown: aspects of society-state interactions in the Hong Kong labor movement before World War II,” in Elizabeth Sinn (ed.), Between East and West- Aspect of Social and Political Development in Hong Kong(Hong Kong: Centre of Asian Studies, University of Hong Kong, 1990).

19 Civil service political neutrality is again jeopardized by Chief Secretary Anson Chan, who upon her decision not to run for the HKSAR chief executive post, issued a political statement on the criteria for the ideal chief executive. She also congratulated C. H. Tung, but not the other two nominated candidates, on his candidacy nomination. Sing Tao Daily, 5, 19 November 1996, and Sing Pao Daily News, 19 November 1996, headline. All three nominated candidates for chief executive consider the senior civil servants already too politicized and the HKSAR must restore their political neutrality. Sing Tao Daily, 30 November 1996.

20 Hamish, Macleod, “Hong Kong: a hard-earned success,” in Government Information Services, Hong Kong 1995: A Review of 1994(Hong Kong: Government Printers, 1995), p. 20.

21 Burns, John P., “Civil service systems in transition: Hong Kong and China,” in Ming Chan, K.(ed.), The Challenge of Hong Kong's Reintegration with China(Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1997), pp. 31–18.

22 Anthony Cheung, “The transition of bureaucratic authority; the political role of the senior civil service in the post-1997 governance of Hong Kong,” paper presented at the Conference on Hong Kong in Transition: Political Order, International Relations and Crisis Management, Hong Kong, 18 September 1996.

23 An authoritative view on “minimal government” is then Financial Secretary MacLeod's “Hong Kong: a hard-earned success."

24 See Alvin, Rabushka, Hong, Kong, A Study in Economic Freedom(Chicago: University of Chicago Press for the Graduate School of Business, 1979).

25 Chan, Ming K., “Stability and prosperity in Hong Kong: the twilight of laissez-faire colonialism?Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. XLII, No. 3 (May 1983), pp. 589598

26 Chan, “Labor vs crown.”

27 Hong Kong Economic Journal, 26 September 1996.

28 The 1966 figure is from MacLeod, “Hong Kong: a hard-earned success,” p. 7; the 1996 figure is from Patten, The 1996 Policy Address, Hong Kong: Transition, section 36.

29 Sing Tao Daily, 18, 25 October, 4 November 1996; South China Morning Post, 18 October, 4 November 1996.

30 Recently, the Consumer Council called for the introduction of competition laws to ensure a level playing field for business; see South China Morning Post, 29 November 1996.

31 The author wishes to thank Sonny S. H. Lo for his insights on this point.

32 South China Morning Post and Sing Tao Daily, 29, 30 November 1995. Also see Far Eastern Economic Review, 9 November 1995, p. 36 on Hong Kong's inadequate welfare provisions.

33 See Youngson, A. J., Hong Kong Economic Growth and Policy(Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1982), ch. 4. A recent input on this issue is the policy platform by Peter K. C. Woo, one of the three nominated candidates for HKSAR chief executive, which calls for a substantial modification of the “positive non-intervention” approach. Hong Kong Economic Journal, 13 November 1996. Yet Financial Secretary Donald Tsang resorted to the Basic Law's stipulation on preserving the capitalist system to refute the front running candidate C. H. Tung's call for government assistance to local industry. See Sing Tao Daily, 4 December 1996. A scholarly study on industrialization in the context of the colonial regime's laissez-faireis Stephen Chiu, The Politics of Laissez-faire: Hong Kong's Strategy of Industrialization in Historical Perspective(Hong Kong: Hong Kong Institute of Asia- Pacific Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1994).

34 On the MacLehose and Youde eras, see James T. H. Tang and Frank Ching, ‘The MacLehose-Youde years: balancing the three-legged stool,’ 1971–86,” in Chan, Precarious Balance.

35 Ming K. Chan, “Hong Kong in Sino-British conflict: mass mobilization and the crisis of legitimacy, 1912–26,” in Chan, Precarious Balance, pp. 48–51.

36 On the failure of the Young plan for democratic reform under Grantham, see Steve Tsang, Y. S., Democracy Shelved: Great Britain, China, and Attempts at Constitutional Reform in Hong Kong, 1945–1952 (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1988).

37 Chan, Ming K., “Democracy derailed: realpolitik in the making of the Hong Kong Basic Law, 1985–90,” in Chan, Ming K.and Clark, David J.(eds.), The Hong Kong Basic Law: Blueprint for “Stability and Prosperity” under Chinese Sovereignty?(Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1991), pp. 913.

38 Frank Ching, “Toward colonial sunset: the Wilson Regime, 1987–92,” in Chan, Precarious Balance

39 South China Morning Post, 31 March 1997.

40 This author argued, at the end of Wilson's governorship, that his true record could only be measured by the difficulties faced by his successor; see Hong Kong Economic Journal, 1 July 1992. When Wilson deferred Legco direct election from 1988 to 1991 to meet Beijing's requirement for “convergence” with the yet to be finalized Basic Law, he could at least eliminate all appointed seats in the Urban/Regional Councils and the 19 District Boards. Wilson's failure doomed Patten's 1994/95 reform of these two tiers as Beijing has promised to reintroduce appointed seats to these councils and boards in the HKSAR.

41 A recent critique of elite politics is sociologist (and HKSAR Preparatory Committee member) Siu-kai Lau's lecture, “Political order and democratization in Hong Kong-the separation of elite and mass politics,” the Hong Kong Lecture, University of Hong Kong, 1996.

42 See Mark, Roberti, The Fall of Hong Kong: Britain's Betrayal and China's Triumph(New York: John Wiley, 1994).

43 Margaret, Thatcher, “Foreword,” in Sally Blyth and Ian Wotherspoon, Hong Kong Remembers(Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1996).

44 In his October 1996 policy address, section 17, Governor Patten gave a figure of 12,000 as the total number of Vietnamese boat people still remaining in Hong Kong. The highest figure of 68,748 was recorded in 1979, see Donald H. McMillen and Man Si-wai (eds.), The Other Hong Kong Report 1994 (Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 1994), p. 180. The United Nations‘ non-payment of over $100 million was raised in the HKSAR chief executive candidates’ question-and-answer sections; see Ta Kung Pao, 30 November 1996.

45 In his October 1996 policy address, section 17, Governor Patten gave a figure of 12,000 as the total number of Vietnamese boat people still remaining in Hong Kong. The highest figure of 68,748 was recorded in 1979, see McMillen, Donald H.and Man Si-wai (eds.), The Other Hong Kong Report 1994(Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 1994), p. 180. The United Nations‘ non-payment of over $100 million was raised in the HKSAR chief executive candidates’ question-and-answer sections; see Ta Kung Pao, 30 November 1996.

46 The author is indebted to Anthony B. L. Cheung, City University of Hong Kong, for his insights on these crucial points.

47 On the mid-1960s riots, see John D. Young, “The building years: maintaining a China-Hong Kong-Britain equilibrium, 1950–71,” in Chan, Precarious Balance.

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