Hong Kong: Economy, Society and Environment

Module Code: HIS-00037-H

Term Taught: T1-T2

Credits: 40

Tutor: David Clayton

Pre-requisites: Not available as an elective

In the post-war period Hong Kong, a colonial city-state comprising densely-populated built-up areas plus an agrarian hinterland, changed rapidly. A million or so new migrants arrived from China, and the population grew to four million by the 1960s. Industrialisation transformed the lives of these people. Wages rose. New goods were consumed. New abodes were built and new communities established.  People became healthier, and more knowledgeable. Social tensions were, despite an on-going civil war between competing mass Chinese political movements, low: riots and strikes occurred but were exceptional; levels of non-organised crime remained low. Kinship ties continued to bind. Cultural traditions were retained. However, many natural environments degraded, and terrible working conditions were endured by the masses. 

Scholars have accounted for these shifts using master narratives, of state-building, of market-integration, of group action, of evolving physical-cum-technological constraints. By concentrating on the history of three decades – the long 1950s, the 1960s, and the long 1970s – we consider these approaches. We think about how anthropologists, economists, geographers and sociologists categorised people and places, and how they plotted processes. We also place the urban development of Hong Kong in Chinese, imperial and global perspectives. We break new ground; historical work on the historical geography, the economic history and the social history of post-war Hong Kong is in its infancy.

We use a range of sources to reconstruct social, economic and geographic events and processes: government reports, statistical series, correspondence and minutes; reports commissioned by non-government organisations based in Hong Kong and overseas; newspaper articles; the recollections and journals of individuals based in Hong Kong or travelling through it.

Learning Outcomes

Students who complete this module successfully should :

  • Be aware of the principal issues raised in the study of Hong Kong’s urban past;
  • Have a critical understanding of the development of multidisciplinary scholarship relating to modern Hong Kong; the work of economists, sociologists, anthropologists and geographers;
  • Have an ability to formulate and to present historical arguments in relation to Hong Kong’s economic, social and environmental history.
  • Have a detailed knowledge of, and an ability to critically to analyze, a representative selection of primary sources relating to the urban history of Hong Kong;
  • Have an awareness of the range of primary source materials, whether written or otherwise, that historians use to study Hong Kong’s economic, social and environmental history;
  • Have an awareness of the methodological issues that are raised by the collection, and analysis of such materials;
  • Have an ability to contextualise primary sources; and to weight their significance

Teaching Programme

Special Subjects are taught over seventeen weekly three hour seminar sessions, eight in the autumn term and nine in the spring term. Students will be required to write one procedural piece of work during the course of the autumn term for which they will receive written feedback with an opportunity to discuss the essay at student hours.

Seminars will deal with the following:

  1. An introduction
  2. Environment: Historical Geographies
  3. Environment: Cultural Geographies
  4. Environment: Polities I
  5. Environment: Polities II
  6. Environment: Materiality I
  7. Environment: Materiality II
  8. Society: Family I
  9. Society: Family II
  10. Society: Business I
  11. Society: Business II
  12. Society: Workers I
  13. Society: Workers II
  14. Economy: Measurement I
  15. Economy: Measurement II
  16. Economy: Women I
  17. Economy: Women II
  18. Economy: The State


Paper I: three hour closed exam dealing with themes and issues

Paper II: 5000 word essay dealing with source material

These assessments will take place during the Summer term assessment period

Preliminary Reading

  • Roger Buckley, Hong Kong: The Road to 1997. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Useful for post-war years of growth: some urban history
  • Steve Tsang, A Modern history of Hong Kong, 1841-1997. London, 2007. For political and social background
  • John Carroll, A Concise history of Hong Kong. Hong Kong University Press, 2007.  For cultural and social background
  • E. B. Endacott, A History of Hong Kong. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1974. An old account, but still the most accessible and interesting overviews of Hong Kong’s history to 1940: good on social and economic shifts