Abstract: As the one and a half centuries of British colonial rule draw to a close on 30 June 1997, it is timely to review the true legacy of British administration in Hong Kong. It would be naive to resort to any simplistic blanket judgment or to issue any sweeping endorsement or condemnation on the mixed record of the British administration. It would also be dangerous to look only at the attainments in the final days of the British regime and use them to reconstruct, or even to substitute for, the full span of British rule. Even given a charitable view of this sunset era of the British regime as its finest hour in Hong Kong, a more informed and balanced assessment of its past deeds must be appreciated in the fuller context of the actual inputs and outputs of British officialdom in shaping developments in the territory and the life of Hong Kong people during the entire course of British rule.
Hong Kong today is globally recognized as a remarkable example of a liberal society with a vibrant economy where its population of more than six million enjoy their freedom and opportunity. For this, the British can indeed claim considerable credit. As portrayed by the last British Governor Christopher Patten, four of the major British contributions to Hong Kong’s success – the rule of law, the civil service, economic freedom and democratization – can be a useful starting point to articulate the true British legacy from a Hong Kong perspective.
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