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  • Collaborative Colonial Power: The Making of the Hong Kong Chinese
  • Tze-ki Hon (bio)
Law Wing Sang . Collaborative Colonial Power: The Making of the Hong Kong Chinese. Aberdeen: Hong Kong University Press, 2009. xii, 262 pp. Paperback $25.00, ISBN 978-962-209-930-2.

In the 1990s, when Britain was preparing to return Hong Kong to China, there was a flurry of publications about the colony. Particularly in the last two years in the [End Page 255] countdown toward the 1997 handover, writings abounded that discussed the history of colonial Hong Kong and the prospect of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) under the People's Republic of China. At that time, the return of Hong Kong to China was portrayed as a retreat of Western democracy to Chinese Communism. Still fighting the Cold War in the post-Cold War world, analysts turned a blind eye to racism and oppression of the departing British colonialists and focused on the imminent threat of Communism. Stressing the danger of the Hong Kong people losing their Western way of life, analysts predicted an end of free society and the market economy in China's Hong Kong. Preoccupied by the success story of Hong Kong being transformed from a fishermen village into a global financial center, analysts failed to note that for some Hong Kong Chinese, the biggest danger of China's takeover was the continuation of the colonial structure of power after the departure of the British. In retrospect, what was missing in the 1990s discussion was an examination of the peculiar nature of Hong Kong's postcoloniality: "How do we talk about a postcoloniality that is a forced return to a 'mother country,' itself as imperialistic as the previous colonizer?"1

Twelve years after the handover, Law Wing Sang offers a systematic study of Hong Kong's postcoloniality in Collaborative Colonial Power: The Making of the Hong Kong Chinese. Covering the history of colonial Hong Kong from its birth in 1842 to its end in 1997, Law explains how the British developed a regime of power that was based partly on the prestige of the British Empire and partly on the cooptation of a small group of local elite. Central to Law's account is the notion that colonialism is not merely the rule of foreign colonists. Rather, it is "a network of relations" operating in multiple sites and channels in the colony "through which the impersonal forces [of colonialism] may still linger in the absence of a discernable colonizer" (p. 3). To drive home his point, Law describes this sprawling network of relations as "collaborative colonialism," highlighting the close cooperation between the colonizer and the colonized in cocreating a structure of power to govern Hong Kong. Based on this concept of collaborative colonialism, Law links colonial Hong Kong to postcolonial Hong Kong, emphasizing the continuation of the colonial structure of power after China's takeover. In so doing, Law provides a convincing explanation for why the transition from British Hong Kong to China's Hong Kong has been so smooth and successful.

To examine the colonial structure of power in today's Hong Kong, Law divides the book into three parts. In the first section (chapters 1-3), he explains the formation of collaborative colonialism in early colonial Hong Kong (1840-1911). For Law, colonial rule is multifaceted. As a system of oppression and dispossession, it gives the colonizers a monopoly of power; at the same time, it also seduces some members of the colonized to serve in the colonial regime. A prime example, according to Law, is the Chinese elite in early colonial Hong Kong. Also known as the "colonial intelligentsia," the elite were mainly compradors, traders, and translators [End Page 256] who followed the British to settle in Hong Kong. Before the arrival of the British, they were on the margins of traditional Chinese society because of their failure to pass the civil service examinations. Yet, through collaborating with the British, they built their power base in Hong Kong by investing in local organizations (pp. 20-29), supporting the use of English as a class marker (pp. 49-56), and transforming Hong Kong into a...