Welfare good or colonial citizenship? A case study of early resettlement housing

Iam Chong IP

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Hong Kong's early public housing project is an example of colonial modernity rather than a textbook case of the expansion of citizenship in the conventional evolutionary or Marshallian scheme (Marshall 1950). As compared with other Third World cities, this project, started in the early 1950s, appeared as a "premature" archievement of socio-economic citizenship, while. in contrast, civil rights and political rights in the city were under-developed. This phenomenon illustrates the specific and conflictual process of transplantation of Western political ideas and institutions to the colonial context. That is, while the colonial state in Hong Kong shared with Third World cities the similar experience of over-urbanization and the rise of an informal housing sector, its responses to the housing crisis were mediated through the institutional and imagined relations between the state and the living environment, housing and the people, which when summarized can be considered as a "sanitary syndrome", and were shaped by Hong Kong's colonial experience since the begining of British colonial rule. Manuel Castells (1986), writing on the massive public housing projects of Hong Kong during the 1950s, was curious about the political will of the state. This chapter argues that the basis for this political will lies in the colonial state's perception of "public health" and its relations to anxiety over "public order." Yet, ironically it does not mean that the colonial government had devised an effective means to solve hygiene problems. Instead, the "sanitary syndrome" underlaid colonial policies and instituions to such an overwhelming extent that it displaced other concerns such as welfare until at least the 1960s. In this light, the historial formation of colonial discourses about "public health" and "public order" is crucial to our understanding of the development of social citizenship in post-war Hong Kong. In this chapter, we will explore the early colonial origins of the "sanitary syndrome", and re-evaluate the resettlement housing project in the 1950s as a "semi-sanitary operation". We will then conclude by discussing some of the implications for the development of social citizenship.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRemaking Citizenship in Hong Kong
Subtitle of host publicationCommunity, Nation and the Global City
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9780203400333
ISBN (Print)415332095
Publication statusPublished - 2004


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