AccScience Publishing / JCAU / Volume 5 / Issue 3 / DOI: 10.36922/jcau.1110
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Building colonial Hong Kong: Speculative development and segregation in the city – A book review

John Walls1*
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1 Glasgow, United Kingdom
Journal of Chinese Architecture and Urbanism 2023, 5(3), 1110
Submitted: 20 June 2023 | Accepted: 6 July 2023 | Published: 27 July 2023
© 2023 by the Author(s). This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution -Noncommercial 4.0 International License (CC-by the license) ( )

Cecilia Chu, an urban historian, was surprised at her studies that unmasking the 19th-century colonial land tenure system resulted in “good government” in Hong Kong. She found the colonial governance evolved to respect traditional Confucian values of impartiality, integrity, and a commitment to the public interest. The need for Hong Kong government to be self-sufficient by Britain was the original driver for this to happen; that is, the requirement to sell public land to raise revenue from the European and Chinese Speculators essential for the development of Hong Kong. Chu’s research revealed that both events and politics over time required the government to move beyond laissez-faire economics and to become interventionist to tackle diseased slum areas and unsafe buildings and to shape new urban development to deliver healthier housing and better environments. Overseas experience of epidemics had led to a growing understanding of the relationship between health and economy in the 19th century. Populations fleeing Hong Kong during epidemics served to demonstrate that the city needed to be healthy if it was to prosper. This caused the government to adopt interventionist policies. In particular, the government intervened in its land sales strategy to reduce fiscal revenue income from sales to induce the private sector to contribute towards social provision in public health, housing and modern town planning. It also had a bearing on colonial segregation strategies to reflect different expectations of the European and native Chinese communities. Crucially, while the colonial administration remained in power, greater involvement of the Chinese elites in the bureaucracy gave legitimacy portraying Hong Kong as a “land of justice.” This demonstration of “good government” helped maintain the loyalty of the Chinese merchant elites and native Chinese population.

Hong Kong
Land tenure
Fiscal system
Laissez faire

Chattopadhyay, S. (2005). Representing Calcutta: Modernity, Nationalism and the Colonial Uncanny. New York: Routledge.


Lai, L. W. C., Kwong, V. W. C., & Kwong, J. W. Y. (2011). Segregation legal and natural: An empirical study of the legally protected and free market housing ownership on the Peak. Habitat International, 35(3):501-507.


Liu, P. W. (2015). Land Premium and Hong Kong Budget: Myths and Realities. Chinese University of Hong Kong. Available from: id=2657700 [Last accessed on 2023 May 23].


Lugard, F. D. (1965). The Dual Mandate in British Tropical Africa. London: Frank Cass.


Yeoh, B. (2003). Contesting Space in Colonial Singapore: Power Relations and the Urban Built Environment. Singapore: Singapore University Press.

Conflict of interest
The author has no competing interests relating to this book review.
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Journal of Chinese Architecture and Urbanism, Electronic ISSN: 2717-5626 Published by AccScience Publishing