Development, colonial rule, and intergroup politics in a Chinese village in Hong Kong


Chau, Lam-yan

TitleDevelopment, colonial rule, and intergroup politics in a Chinese village in Chinese village in Hong Kong
PublisherSocial Research Center, the Chinese University of Hong Kong
Publication Date

May, 1980


Rural development

So Kun Wat Village
Rural conditions

Abstract/ Concluding Remarks:

To manage conflict through the recognization of de facto political groups and to grant them separate political representation and privileges are a well-established practices of British colonial rule ( Polis 1973). In the case of So Kun Wat Village, we find that political recognition was given to an essentially economic and social organization, even though the formal administrative and political rules remained unchanged. This is a strategy of containing intergroup politics in the village through compartmentalization. The formal colonial rules are seen as impractical given the numerical majority of the outsiders in the village, the solidarity of their organization, the possibility of collective actions, and the inability of the village representatives to 'represent' the outsiders or to 'control' them. However, the success of conflict containment through compartmentalization can be attributed to several crucial factors. The dominating presence of the government, reinforced by its roles as the controller and allocator of resources coveted by both village groups, is essential. That the government is staffed by a group of bureaucrats who are nonlocals helps immunize them from village politics. The lack of effective resistance to the government strategy by the original inhabitants is also essential, and t his can be attributed to the dependence of the village representatives on the government for favours, the fragmentation of the original inhabitants' POUPS, the fragmentation of the village leadership due to intense internal competition, and the fact that many original inhabitants have already deserted the village as apolitical arena.


For the time being, the containment of horizontal conflict through verticalizing it seems to be working quite well - The ease with which the Tuen Mun Residents Advancement Association (composed of outsiders in the Tuen Mun District and with the goal of promoting 'the interests of the outsiders) was formed in September 1979 seems to indicate that the government is extending this strategy of conflict containment to wider areas of the New Territories. In some aspects, however, the strategy might backfire. By verticalizing political relationships, the government has, knowingly or not, increased the potential for political conflict between itself and the separate groups to which it has given political representation. With growing aspirations among the populace, the government might someday find that it is in an unenviable situation of having not enough resources to keep these groups happy. For those recently granted representation, it is the government which has in the first place raised their political aspirations through the granting of political representation. In the So Kun Wat Village, anyway, the problem is destined to disappear, for sooner or later the village will be obliterated when it is engulfed in the tide of new town development, For other newly settled areas in the New Territories, however, the prospect of administrative and political overload cannot be overlooked.


From a political point of view, the development of a set of pragmatic rules to structure political behaviour in the New Territories, while leaving the formal and increasingly discarded old rules intact , will also bring about unintended political consequences, some of which the British government might not wish to face. As these pragmatic rules are largely devised and implemented by government officials, they will be left with enormous discretionary power to deal politically with groups individuals in the New Territories. As the stakes of development are so large, the central role occupied by civil servants in the resource generation and distribution processes will subject them willy-nilly to political forces and power alignments in the area. Corruption, political arbitrariness, and the emergence of patron-client networks (with civil servants playing the role of patron) are real possibilities that might complicate the planned development process. Moreover, the periodical reassignment of civil servant (especially the District Officers) and the personal idiosyncracies of new incumbents will inevitably inject a destabilizing element into New Territories politics, given their critical role in the political arena there. In the long term, if the formal rules of the political game are not changed, we might expect an increasing politicization of the New Territories.

NoteBibliography: p. 40-41
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