Rodney So has just submitted his MPhil thesis to the History Department of the Lingnan University of Hong Kong. In this post, Rodney explains to us how he became interested in Hong Kong’s fight against corruption, and talks about the challenges he faced in writing this history:
I am in my second year of MPhil in history at Lingnan University, awaiting my viva in the coming summer. My first encounter with Hong Kong history happened in the second year of my undergraduate study at the University of Hong Kong, when I took a course taught by John Carroll about museum and history, in which I came across with materials about post-war Hong Kong history. I was fascinated by the idea of the emergence of the civic identity shared among the local Chinese. And that was the time when I started to contemplate for a research about the fight against corruption, which played an important role in building the civic identity.
The major focus of my ongoing MPhil project is to find out the political and social context which compelled the colonial government to introduce anti-corruption measures throughout the twentieth century up to the 1970s. It sounds peculiar, but the syndicated corruption was a balanced system which fitted in Colonialism in Hong Kong. The collusion between local triads, the rank and file was, on one hand, a lucrative business providing illegal entertainment which were favourable to local Chinese. On the other hand, it serves as a cost-effective system to maintain public order, which was the essential element for commercial activities to flourish. The syndicated corruption within the Police Force cramped the Force in doing anti-corruption investigations, which allows corruption to embed in various government departments. Despite the distaste of the English speaking circle in Hong Kong towards widespread dishonesty within the colonial administration, they were rather apathetic to sustain a cry for eradication. In the 1960s and 70s, they had bigger worries, such as the Sterling exchange issue and the negotiation about British entry to the EEC. James Fellows’s PhD thesis demonstrates the series of negotiations between the colonial government and the British government to prevent the British entry to the EEC and how it affected the business interest of textile merchants in Hong Kong.
The interesting point is that my research findings contradict to what I expected to find. It was only in the final phase of my research that I realised there has been so many misinterpretations, sometimes deliberately done, by the social media and the PR department of law-enforcing units on this topic. Also, doing research on such a sensitive topic is also, unfortunately, more difficult than I expected, in terms of the availability of sources. I was restrained by the limited primary sources on understanding more about the details of police corruption and scandals. Thus, most of the sources I used in the research are official government documents composed by the Colonial Office and the colonial government. They are useful to analyse the strategy composition of the ruling circle when faced with political predicament. However, I regret that I could not do more, due to the lack of sources, to tackle the question about the discourse of corruption among local Chinese.
Are you also an ECR/postgraduate hoping to let the wider community know about your work on Hong Kong history? If you’re interested in contributing, please write to Vivian Kong (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more details!