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Building Colonial Hong Kong: Speculative Development and Segregation in the City

Author: Cecilia Chu,
Associate Professor, Division of Landscape Architecture,
University of Hong Kong


In the 1880s, Hong Kong was a booming colonial entrepôt, with many European, especially British, residents living in palatial mansions in the Mid-Levels and at the Peak. But it was also a ruthless migrant city where Chinese workers shared bedspaces in the crowded tenements of Taipingshan. Despite persistent inequality, Hong Kong never ceased to attract different classes of sojourners and immigrants, who strived to advance their social standing by accumulating wealth, especially through land and property speculation.

In this engaging and extensively illustrated book, Cecilia L. Chu retells the ‘Hong Kong story’ by tracing the emergence of its ‘speculative landscape’ from the late nineteenth to the early decades of the twentieth century. Through a number of pivotal case studies, she highlights the contradictory logic of colonial urban development: the encouragement of native investment that supported a laissez-faire housing market, versus the imperative to segregate the populations in a hierarchical, colonial spatial order. Crucially, she shows that the production of Hong Kong’s urban landscapes was not a top-down process, but one that evolved through ongoing negotiations between different constituencies with vested interests in property. Further, her study reveals that the built environment was key to generating and attaining individual and collective aspirations in a racially divided, highly unequal, but nevertheless upwardly mobile, modernizing colonial city.

Here’s the recent review of the book:

Author’s bio

Cecilia L. Chu is an urban historian and Associate Professor in the Division of Landscape Architecture at the University of Hong Kong. She is a co-founder and past president of the Hong Kong Chapter of DOCOMOMO (International Committee for Documentation and Conservation of Buildings, Sites, and Neighbourhoods of the Modern Movement) and an editorial board member of Journal of Urban History, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong, and Built Environment.

Here is the link to the book where you can download the PDF of the first chapter of the book for free.
[click the tab “PREVIEW PDF” on the right]