Mitigating Environmental Crises and Epidemics in British Hong Kong, c. 1945-1980

(History Department, funded by the Nanyang Assistant Professorship Scheme.
Principal investigator: Florence Mok, Co-investigator: David Clayton (University of York))

This study will make an original contribution to the political, social and environmental history of modern China and British colonialism by exploring how the colonial government and the Chinese society in Hong Kong mitigated environmental crises from 1945 to 1980, a period with growing policy initiatives, increased economic affluence and rising political and social consciousness. It will focus on the state and popular responses to Hong Kong’s four most common natural crises under the subtropical climate: typhoon, water shortages, flooding and seasonal epidemics. The proposed study will use a traditional historical approach of examining published sources and archival manuscripts in Hong Kong and London. The main objective is to investigate investment in new technologies and infrastructures, the alternation of landscapes, socio-political mobilisations such as mutual-aid committees and state propaganda; Hong Kong was a Cold War pivot in Asia. Many measures taken by the state therefore were influenced by geopolitics and Cold War dynamics, in particular Britain’s relations with China and the United States.

This timely and innovative study will shed light on the current global crises of climate change and epidemics by tracing past practices used to alleviate emergencies in a densely populated and newly-urbanised environment which had an under-developed welfare system, supported by a narrow tax base: these are conditions that are found in many parts of the world today. Historicising natural disasters will enrich the academic discourse on environmental changes and urbanisation. Studying Hong Kong will identify similarities and differences in responses between the East and the West, complementing on-going studies of crisis management in science, medicine, sociology and public policy. 

Photo source: HKPRO website gallery – https://www.grs.gov.hk/ws/online/GPM/tc/gallery/water.html

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