On October 26, Dr. Matthew Hendley, Department of History, presented a paper entitled “Building Community without Democracy: Public Housing in colonial Hong Kong under Governor MacLehose, 1971-1982” at the Annual Meeting of North American Conference on British Studies (NACBS) in Providence, Rhode Island.
The NACBS is the largest gathering of British historians in North America and includes scholars from Canada, the United States and Britain. Dr. Hendley’s paper examined the massive expansion of public housing which occurred under the British colonial regime in Hong Kong during the 1970s.
He argued that this program was a conscious effort to mend the community fault lines that had been exposed in Hong Kong by a series of riots in the 1960s. Through increased social welfare spending, especially on public housing, as well as civic consciousness raising efforts such as a voluntary anti-litter Clean Up Hong Kong campaign, Governor MacLehose strove to rebuild community ties without conceding any democratic reforms. This strategy also avoided a reliance on patriotic education in schools or hosting royal visits which MacLehose believed could only lead to a transitory sense of loyalty to the regime. However, Dr. Hendley argued that the housing policy at best only created a functional level of political legitimacy for the colonial government.