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Drawing on archival materials, Michael Ng challenges the widely accepted narrative that freedom of expression in Hong Kong is a legacy of British rule of law. Demonstrating that the media and schools were pervasively censored for much of the colonial period and only liberated at a very late stage of British rule, this book complicates our understanding of how Hong Kong came to be a city that championed free speech by the late 1990s. With extensive use of primary sources, the free press, freedom of speech and judicial independence are all revealed to be products of Britain's China strategy. Ng shows that, from the nineteenth to the twentieth century, Hong Kong's legal history was deeply affected by China's relations with world powers. Demonstrating that Hong Kong's freedoms drifted along waves of change in global politics, this book offers a new perspective on the British legal regime in Hong Kong.


‘Michael Ng offers an outstanding account of political censorship in colonial Hong Kong. Drawing on rich archival research, Ng argues the chimera of the rule of law in Hong Kong, and subsequent legal reforms, were largely shaped by dynamic geopolitics, particularly as between the UK and China. A terrific book.’

Pip Nicholson - William Hearn Professor of Law and Deputy Vice-Chancellor (People and Community), Melbourne Law School

‘This is a penetrating and lucid account of how British colonial authorities suppressed political speech and activism during their 155-year reign over the city. The more liberal and rule of law oriented regime they left behind in 1997 was, as Ng expertly demonstrates, largely a legacy of the final two decades of British rule, produced under the looming specter of Chinese reacquisition. Prior to that, British authorities were consistently hostile to local demands for more political autonomy and freedom, suppressing them through a wide range of legal and administrative tools. This book forces us to confront this darker history and rethink common assumptions about the nature of British colonialism in Asia.’

Taisu Zhang - Professor of Law, Yale Law School and author of The Ideological Foundations of Qing Taxation (2022)

‘Michael Ng upends narratives of Hong Kong’s rule-of-law past and its colonial nostalgia. Through his careful archival study, Ng shows that censorship and libel laws were long the tools of British colonizers in Hong Kong. By explaining Hong Kong's status as a fulcrum of British-Chinese relations, Ng situates the story of Hong Kong in the broader fields of comparative legal history, international relations, and geopolitics, telling a story that resonates powerfully for students of empire.’

Matthew Erie - Associate Professor of Modern Chinese Studies, University of Oxford and author of China and Islam (2016)

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  • Introduction
    pp 1-12


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