Good governance
in Hong Kong and British culture, 1945–97
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As Britain prepared for the 1997 change of sovereignty, it became common to cite Hong Kong as an example of the British talent for “good governance”, and to name the establishment of rule of law and governing institutions as one of Britain’s most important legacies. Yet this emphasis on good governance was not only a parting reflection, but was a constant theme throughout the post-war period. Before the late 1960s, commentary emphasized minimal government and indirect rule, with magistrate Austin Coates likening himself to a Confucian “mandarin”. After the 1967-68 riots, the Government emphasized more proactive attempts to connect to their subjects, and to close the “gap” that had emerged between rulers and ruled. In this context, especially under Governor Murray MacLehose, it pursued numerous administrative and social reforms, established the Independent Commission Against Corruption, and significantly expanded its public relations efforts, while steadily avoiding any move toward democratization, even as such activists as Elsie Elliott called for it. Only once the change of sovereignty was inevitable did the British countenance serious democratic reforms, as the Christopher Patten government sought to leave a legacy. Throughout all these changes, the discourse of “good governance” constantly emphasized its pragmatic character.

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