The discourse of unbridled capitalism in postwar Hong Kong
in Hong Kong and British culture, 1945–97
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During the post-war period, as a broad consensus was thought to have formed in the UK around the welfare state, Hong Kong was widely heralded as an arena in which pre-1945 British capitalist and entrepreneurial ideals continued to flourish. To its defenders, Hong Kong’s laissez-faire practices, or “positive non-interventionism”, made Hong Kong more British than Britain itself. Detractors of colonial Hong Kong, who emphasized sweatshops and squatter huts, confirmed the sharp difference between metropolitan and colonial practice. To Hong Kong’s champions, whose views were broadly hegemonic, Britain’s “benign neglect” was largely responsible for Hong Kong’s transformation from a “barren rock” into one of the world’s great cities. Not only did such views appear in political debates and journalistic accounts, but they also came out in fictional accounts, above all in the novels of James Clavell. At the same time, Hong Kong’s advocates insisted that greater regulation was not only self-defeating but futile; according to prevailing discourse, Chinese people “liked to overwork”. During the 1960s and 1970s, critics of Britain’s welfare state consensus, including Sir Keith Joseph, often used Hong Kong as a foil for critiquing Britain’s own supposed failed economic policies and economic decline.

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