UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Everyday colonialism : the 1906 typhoon and governance in early twentieth-century Hong Kong Cheng, Justin Chun-Yin


As a Crown Colony, the Hong Kong government held particularly strong executive power—the Governor’s position afforded him seemingly unrestrained formal and informal powers. His power did have limits at times, however. This thesis shows how bureaucratic practices amongst the Governor, Colonial Office and Legislative Council and interactions with the mercantile elites demonstrated the delicate nature of Hong Kong’s colonial governance. Through examining the materials in connection to an everyday natural disaster like typhoon, this thesis offers a more nuanced and subtle picture of Hong Kong’s colonial governance at an everyday level, one in which the Governor’s power was constrained by the bureaucratic practices of both the Colonial Office and the Legislative Council, without being determined by the whims of European and Chinese mercantile elites. As a result, this thesis will serve as a case study into the workings of British colonialism on a day-to-day level. Colonial governance needs to be contextualized in its own time, place and form. The case of Hong Kong provides an example for comparative analysis in which colonial governance was conditioned by local context, especially within the Crown Colony system. This thesis will also show that, given the discrepancy of power between regulations and reality, the shared goal of stabilizing society and minimizing losses after typhoons further motivated all of the actors to fulfill their roles in the best light. Furthermore, as a devastating natural disaster, the 1906 typhoon also offers an entry point to look into how the unpredictability and uncontrolled nature of crises—or natural disasters in particular—mediated the governance and relations among actors. The role of natural disaster in governance has been largely ignored in the scholarship of Hong Kong history. Neither the 1906 typhoon nor the government’s response has been the subject of extensive research before. My thesis will fill both gaps: the government’s response will be evaluated at a structural level, and hence the response to the 1906 typhoon will be laid out more comprehensively, with the ultimate aim of achieving a fuller understanding of Hong Kong’s everyday colonial governance.

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