John Stuart Mill’s other island
The discourse of unbridled capitalism in post-war Hong Kong
in The cultural construction of the British world
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This chapter examines Hong Kong between 1945 and 1979 as an imagined space in which a British “unbridled capitalism” could flourish even as Britain itself developed a welfare state “consensus”. Drawing on political pamphlets, novels, memoirs, journalistic accounts, politicians’ speeches, and trade organizations’ papers, it argues that Hong Kong was widely seen by expatriates as a place in which British values survived after having been quashed in a “declining” Britain. At the same time, Hong Kong provided a foil against which neo-liberal think tanks could highlight Britain’s need to revive an enterprise culture. In fact, Hong Kong’s status as a laissez-faire economy was overstated, as the government increasingly intervened in such fields as housing, public health, education, and infrastructure. In addition, this meme depended on assumptions that the Chinese were compulsive workers uninterested in leisure, and that Hong Kong Chinese were politically apathetic, both of which collapsed in the late 1960s. Despite these tensions, this distinct idea of a Hong Kong Britishness provided a cultural legacy that survived the collapse of the “British world”. At the same time, by preserving what were often called neo-Victorian economic ideals, Hong Kong constituted a model to which anti-Keynesian British politicians of the 1970s could point.

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