'Anglo-China' as the founders of colonial Hong Kong referred to the island ceded to
Britain by China in 1842, was to be more than the 'Emporium of the East': it was
to be a model of British government and a happy meeting of East and West. These two
excellent studies, both written by former Hong Kong colonial servants, show how this
encounter was not always pleasant or productive.
Although most historians have assumed that the early colonial government ruled its
Chinese subjects with a light touch, Christopher Munn tells a radically different story.
Unable to form reliable links with the nascent Chinese elite, the government exerted a
'considerable impact' on people's daily lives (p 3). Hong Kong had one of the largest
police forces in the British Empire, a huge military presence, an elaborate system of
monopolies and taxes, and oppressive curfews and registration programmes for controlling
the Chinese population. Hong Kong's early criminal justice system was supposed to blend
the best of the Chinese and English systems. In practice, argues Munn, the Chinese 'got the
worst of both worlds' (p 159). Early magistrates were very poorly qualified or even
unqualified. Instead, the government relied on so-called 'China experts' such as Chief
Magistrate William Caine, who was often implicated in corruption and was notorious for
his harsh punishments. With a criminal justice system that created new offences and
punishments applicable only to them, the Chinese in Hong Kong 'lived under a constantly
changing, labyrinthine system of intrusive regulatory laws and policing practices, which
increasingly criminalized many daily activities and brought thousands of people into direct
contact with the police and the courts' (pp 3-4). Racial bias and problems with evidence
created a system of justice that contradicted official views of British impartial justice and
not only failed to prevent crime but even drove away wealthy Chinese merchants.
Colonial officials' frequent declarations to the contrary, the administration of justice
was not impartial. Courts often presumed that Chinese defendants were guilty, and
judges such as John Walter Hulme were known for being especially tough on non-
European defendants. Unfamiliar with British law, Chinese were less able to appeal
unfavourable verdicts and were often convicted for very minor offences. Because many
Europeans believed that Chinese were undeterred by 'soft' British justice, Chinese were
usually punished more severely than Europeans. Punishments such as caning and
wearing the cangue (a Chinese portable pillory borne on the shoulders by petty offenders) were applied only to Chinese. Particularly vigorous in trying to
control the Chinese population was Governor Richard MacDonnell, who expanded the
power of the police, strengthened curfews, and increased the use of flogging, hanging,
and deportation. Even the so-called 'pro-Chinese' Governor John Hennessy, who tried to
bring more Chinese (to whom he referred as 'our Anglo-Chinese subjects' or as
'Her Majesty's loyal and law-abiding Chinese subjects') into the colonial elite, used a
broad definition of crime and high rates of prosecution to control the Chinese population.
This book when combined with The Six Day War of 1899 should appeal to anyone interested in the history of Hong Kong, the
British Empire, and colonialism in general. Grounded firmly in Hong Kong's unique
geographical and cultural context, they address larger questions about the administration
of justice, anti-colonial resistance, and state-society relations.