This book examines the place of Hong Kong in the British imagination between the end of World War II and the return of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty in July 1997. It argues that Hong Kong has received far less attention from British imperial and cultural historians than its importance would warrant. It argues that Hong Kong was a site within which competing yet complementary visions of Britishness could be imagined—for example, the British penchant for trade and good government, and their role as agents of modernization. At the centre of these articulations of Britishness was the idea of Hong Kong as a “barren rock” that British administration had transformed into one of the world’s great cities—and the danger of its destruction by the impending “handover” to communist China in 1997. The book moves freely between the activities of Britons in Hong Kong and portrayals of Hong Kong within domestic British discourse. It uses such printed primary sources as newspapers, memoirs, novels, political pamphlets, and academic texts, and archival material located in the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, the United States, and Australia, including government documents, regimental collections, and personal papers.
The demise of British imperial power in the three decades following the Second World War is a familiar theme in the study of post-war British politics, economics and foreign relations. This book is the first major attempt to examine the cultural manifestations of the demise of imperialism as a social and political ideology in post-war Britain. It stresses and strains of imperial decline were not safely contained within the realm of high politics. British governments had to steer a delicate course between a firm display of British authority and control. The book begins with an overview of the persistence of imperialism in popular culture in the post-1945 era. Although an elitist and unashamedly 'establishment' grouping, the Round Table had always been actively engaged in the wider dissemination of an imperial outlook. The Commonwealth anaesthetic was at its most effective at the time of Queen Elizabeth's coronation in June 1953. The book then examines the remarkable coincidence of the coronation and the conquest of Everest, an event that became heavily imbued with late imperial hubris. An account of the complex picture of a British theatre, post-war cultural scene, the anti-establishment sentiment, and the shortcomings of Britain's ruling elites, follows. The book also examines Britain's steadily dwindling imperial power was mirrored by the demise of English cricket. The culture of imperial decline, namely that of popular children's literature is discussed. The book talks about the nostalgic trail of post-imperial British travellers, immigration divide, and the relationship between western feminism and colonial nationalism.
This chapter provides the context in which Britain’s post-war cultural engagement with Hong Kong occurred. At the end of World War II, the Colonial Government resumed control over a now depopulated city in which many buildings were in ruins. However, with civil war in mainland China, and the establishment the People’s Republic in 1949, Hong Kong saw its population explode, with many people living in ramshackle squatters’ huts. Throughout the post-war period, Hong Kong’s relationship with China was its most important one, and the Colony’s economic miracle developed against the backdrop of the expectation that China could resume sovereignty over Hong Kong at any time, but certainly by 1997 when Britain’s lease of the New Territories expired. Hong Kong was also a key site in the Cold War, serving for the United States as a post for “China-watching” and, during the Vietnam War, as a recreation spot for soldiers on leave. Hong Kong’s population and economic growth occurred against the backdrop of Britain’s decolonization, so that in the first three post-war decades, this formerly insignificant colony became Britain’s most important imperial territory. Finally, the chapter examines the types of British expatriates and settlers who lived in Hong Kong during the post-war period.
The Empire and Commonwealth in the ‘second Elizabethan age’
Peter H. Hansen
Commonwealth in the conquest of Everest in Britishculture in the 1950s.
The imperial connotations of the ascent of Everest were shaped in the
interwar years, but altered by the Second World War and the independence
of India. Although British mountaineers were initially unprepared for
these changes, they benefited from new state support and recent
scientific research as well as the expansive definition of
Kong’s population into culturally ‘British’ people.
Above all, they do not move beyond caricature.
Previous chapters have focused on the interaction between
Hong Kong and Britishculture, including the relationship of Hong Kong
to Britishness. As we have seen, Hong Kong was a canvas on which
particular British values were projected: unbridled capitalism,
modernisation, and good governance, among others
British electorate ‘didn’t care a brass fa[r]thing about
Hong Kong’. 14
If Hong Kong often eluded public interest, it also has been
largely absent in historical studies of Britishculture; still less has
it featured in the scholarship on Britishness. This is not surprising.
During the late Victorian zenith of imperial consciousness, when empire
arguably had its most pronounced effect on British national
The demise of British imperial power
in the three decades following the Second World War is a familiar theme
in the study of post-war British politics, economics and foreign
relations. Yet there has been virtually no attention to the question of
how these dramatic changes in Britain’s relationships with the
wider world were reflected in Britishculture. This is surprising, given
new subsidised popular art theatre, centred on the Royal Court. Its
title helped to name the Angry Young Men’, a loose grouping of
playwrights, novelists, poets and film-makers who sought to loosen the
grip of a conservative establishment on the throat of Britishculture.
In Declaration (1957), the closest thing to a manifesto that they
ever produced, the theatre critic Kenneth Tynan railed at the tired old
The satire boom and the demise of Britain’s world role
The quickening pace of imperial
decline in the post-war era prompted a wide variety of responses in
contemporary Britishculture. On the one hand, there are signs of anger
and resentment at the apparently inexorable slide towards British
impotence on the world stage, coupled with a mournful nostalgia for a
more resolute and certain age. At the same time, the mounting pressure
necessitated the removal of some long-established villages whose
location interfered with desirable spots for reservoirs. Against these
conditions stood geopolitical realities; because of both China’s
proximity and the cold war context, Britain could not afford to neglect
the worst effects of overcrowding.
Yet deliberate, planned modernisation also reflected
currents in postwar Britishculture. If, as Chapter