Revisiting the golden era of MacLehose and the dynamics of social reforms
Author:Ray Yep & Tai-lok Lui
Issue Date:October 29, 2010
The so-called “MacLehose era” has been fondly remembered as a period marking the turning point in colonial rule in Hong Kong and its socioeconomic development in the postwar decades. This article, however, argues that it was London’s initiatives summarized in the document Hong Kong Planning Paper that accounted for the acceleration of social reforms in the 1970s. Contrary to popular perception, MacLehose, who was beholden to local constraints, appeared to be a reluctant reformer. His inclination to defend his vision of the colony’s interests brought him into heated exchanges and debates with British officials who were driven by different political calculations and strategic concerns back home. The altercations uncovered in this article reveal that the colony’s perimeter for action is certainly defined by the position of the sovereign; yet, the outcome of the process was hardly preordained. Beneath the facade of subservience and accommodation, colonial administrators had stubbornly defended their vision of local interests and tried to implement the reforms at their own pace. They appeared not to be swayed by the asymmetry of power in constitutional terms.
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