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Reviewed by:
  • Hong Kong: Becoming a Chinese Global City
  • Lisa Fischler (bio)
Stephen Chiu and Tai-Lok Lui. Hong Kong: Becoming a Chinese Global City. New York: Routledge, 2009. xiv, 200 pp. Paperback $43.95, ISBN 978-0-415-22011-8.

Is Hong Kong a global city, Asia’s world city, or China’s global city? Hong Kong: Becoming a Chinese Global City tests the first part of the question, discusses the government campaign to achieve the second, and settles, ambiguously, on the third possibility. The final inconclusiveness of Stephen Chiu and Tai-Lok Lui’s succinct volume makes sense, however. Their book’s major contribution centers on bringing politics, in the form of institutional governance and agency, back into economic-centered debates on global cities and global city-regions. Furthermore, contemporary Hong Kong politics is at an impasse, in transition, and in crisis about responding effectively to the challenges of globalization. Moreover, the work’s six substantive chapters all underscore the idea that the global status of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) remains unclear and depends much on future government moves to “seek a way to overcome the fragmentation of business interests and forge a broader base of support to strengthen the legitimacy of its major development [End Page 334] policies” (p. 126). While the introductory chapter efficiently delineates Chiu and Lui’s central hypothesis concerning Hong Kong’s status as a global city, the conclusion (chapter 7) explores the challenges for the SAR if it is to remain both global and Chinese. In addition, an explicit incorporation of primary arguments from the global cities literature, of an historical approach to globalization, and of multiple key actors into this book’s critical analysis of Hong Kong will interest scholars researching China politics and economics, global cities and global cityregions, globalization, transnationalism, and postindustrial development.

Hong Kong’s early trajectory as a Chinese capitalist center shows globalization as a historical continuity not just as a phenomenon of the late twentieth century. Retaining much of the conventional definition of economic globalization, chapter 1 traces Hong Kong’s emergence as the “center of a transnational trade network stretching from the China coast to Southeast Asia and then to Australia and North America” (p. 18). Despite British doubts of the benefits to be derived from Hong Kong in the 1840s, already existing regional trade networks buoyed the colony’s economic development such that it overcome the limitations of colonialism. An emergent Chinese business elite took advantage of new opportunities to embed the colony solidly into established intra-Asian trade, finance, and commerce networks. Yet, Chiu and Lui’s inclusion of key economic actors and their longue durée approach to Hong Kong’s global city status raise the question of whether globalization can have different timelines for different places historically. If so, can it still be considered globalization, given the assumed worldwide scope and scale of the phenomenon?

Hong Kong’s “rediscovery of its hinterland,” when manufacturing moved across the border into the PRC following cheaper labor costs, redistributed the colony’s industrial production both spatially and in terms of scale. As chapter 2 demonstrates, this move reconnected Hong Kong to a more regional economy as the PRC opened up to the outside world in the 1980s. Hong Kong ceased to be a manufacturing center driven by export-led industrialization, but when the global economy restructured, local capital in Hong Kong was uniquely positioned to enter the regional subcontracting market that became intricately woven into global supply chains of consumer goods. Once again, that people played a key role in this drama is evident. Migration into Hong Kong during its boom years as a manufacturing center guaranteed a ready supply of low-cost labor; Chinese language skills, family connections, and familiarity with the business and community culture of Hong Kong entrepreneurs enabled them to enter the developing regional market of South China in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The downside of this move was that the small businesses driving Hong Kong’s manufacturing success in the 1950s and 1960s were unable to make the shift locally to less laborintensive modes of production...