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  • Institutional Change and the Political Transition in Hong Kong
  • Kerrie L. MacPherson (bio)
Ian Scott , editor. Institutional Change and the Political Transition in Hong Kong. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998. xiv, 252 pp. Hardcover $69.95, ISBN 0-312-21076-0.

Ian Scott has pulled together a close-knit group of researchers who have tracked and are continuing to track public opinion and the transition of Hong Kong's institutions as the city moves ineluctably away from British models to the realities of reintegration with China. Their book is the result of a conference held in Fremantle, Western Australia, in April 1996, sponsored by the Asia Research Centre of Murdoch University and the Foreign Affairs and Trade Department of the Australian Government. Its essays reflect a hard scrutiny of changes and continuities in the institutional structure and political culture in the rundown to 1997, as well as measured speculation on the course of future developments. It is regretable, given the collection of talented researchers and commentators represented [End Page 530] here, that the book falls short of covering the handover and the critical events in the region, particularly the economic recession in the past two years. This is not to cavil, but to express a wish for further well-crafted analyses of institutional change, on the model presented here, that eschew any knee-jerk reaction in the face of the inaction or partisanship that is daily dished up in the local press.

The essays are structured around three important questions: "What do Hong Kong people think of their institutions? How do these institutions presently work and how might they be expected to work in the future? And what will be the influence of the Chinese government on those institutions?" (p. xv). The first two questions are admirably handled in the first two sections of the book. The last section, dealing with questions of "influence" and the "Chinese government," is more problematical, and speculative, though arguably more important. An insider's view of this question, accepting the limitations that may constrain any PRC scholar willing to tackle the issue, would to my mind have enlarged the debate and added to the insights so ably presented by the authors in this section. Too often we assume that cross-border views will either not be forthcoming or be just a rehash of political slogans disguised as analysis. Yet in lieu of the insiders' views, we lack the critical engagement of mainland scholars so necessary to creating a "reciprocity of perspectives" on which, to some extent, Hong Kong's future as a Chinese city may depend.

One does not need to read far to see that each author is deeply concerned with the question of democracy or the problem of the degree to which public support exists or may be encouraged in the political development of local institutions. Michael Degolyer, who now heads the Hong Kong Transition Project at Hong Kong Baptist University, responsible since 1993 for conducting regular surveys of local attitudes toward 1997, opens part 1, "Public Opinion, Political Culture and Perceptions of Hong Kong's Institutions." Degolyer's thrust (as with the other contributors to this section) is that changes in the perceptions held by the people of Hong Kong "will affect the future political system rather more than those formally elaborated in the Basic Law" (p. 30). Rowena Kwok and Elaine Chan, also drawing on surveys that they conducted before the 1995 Legislative Council elections, ask to what extent the "cultural requisites of democracy are present in contemporary Hong Kong and . . . speculate . . . on the prospects for democratization" (p. 64). Part 1 closes with a look by Joan Y. H. Leung at changing perceptions of political parties since their emergence in the 1980s, based on door-to-door interviews one week prior to the 1995 elections.

Each essay concludes with dire predictions for the future of political development and therefore stability in Hong Kong based on the authors' readings of the possible reactions of the Chinese government toward Hong Kong if peoples' aspirations for freedom and further democratization become manifest. In short, "China's hard-line politics" (Kwok and Chan, p. 81) will lead to "politics by...


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