Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Speculative Modern: Urban Forms and the Politics of Property in Colonial Hong Kong
by Chu, Cecilia Louise, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 2012, 171; 3640383
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation traces the genealogy of property development and emergence of an urban milieu in Hong Kong between the 1870s and mid 1930s. This is a period that saw the transition of colonial rule from one that relied heavily on coercion to one that was increasingly "civil," in the sense that a growing number of native Chinese came to willingly abide by, if not whole-heartedly accept, the rules and regulations of the colonial state whilst becoming more assertive in exercising their rights under the rule of law. Long hailed for its laissez-faire credentials and market freedom, Hong Kong offers a unique context to study what I call "speculative urbanism," wherein the colonial government's heavy reliance on generating revenue from private property supported a lucrative housing market that enriched a large number of native property owners. Although resenting the discrimination they encountered in the colonial territory, they were able to accumulate economic and social capital by working within and around the colonial regulatory system. Meanwhile, the growing stake of Chinese capital in Hong Kong's economy was perceived as a threat by local British and European residents, who tried to maintain their privileges via discriminatory legislation.

A central goal of this study is to elucidate how particular forms of urban development predicated on opportunism and a "liberal governmentality" came to be consolidated within a racially divided, highly unequal, but nevertheless upwardly mobile, "modernizing" colonial city. By focusing on speculative building practices and the changing administrative framework that sought to regulate urban forms and social norms, this dissertation aims to illustrate some of the inherent contradictions in colonial development between the liberal, laissez-faire ideology that propelled capitalist expansion and the exclusionary impulses that clung to a hierarchical spatial order. Although this bifurcated milieu helped legitimized different rules for different peoples, it also opened up new channels for cultural and political negotiations. The examination of the competing discourses about the city and its development in Hong Kong's early period also provides a crucial explanatory framework for the so-called "Hong Kong economic miracle" in the postwar era and the prevalence of speculative property activities that continues to the postcolonial present.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: AlSayyad, Nezar
Commitee: Crysler, Greig C., Irschick, Eugene F.
School: University of California, Berkeley
Department: Architecture
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 76/03(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: History, Asian Studies, Modern history, Architecture
Keywords: Architecture, Colonialism, Governmentality, Hong kong, Liberalism, Speculation
Publication Number: 3640383
ISBN: 978-1-321-25840-0
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