Hong Kong's Tortuous Democratization: A Comparative Analysis

By Ming Sing | Go to book overview

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Studying Hong Kong from a comparative perspective

An anomaly for modernization theory (1980-mid-2002)

Problem-setting: the Chinese Government’s opposition is not a sufficient reason for the absence of democracy in Hong Kong

Three years before the twentieth century drew to an end, Britain withdrew from Hong Kong, the most glowing colony it has ever governed throughout its colonial history. Hong Kong, a place where East meets West, where robust Chinese entrepreneurship prospers under a British legal system, is an invaluable “asset” and an economic powerhouse. 1 However, Hong Kong’s political development has been dwarfed in comparison with those splendid economic achievements. The handover of the most prosperous British colony in 1997 to China, the most powerful post-totalitarian regime that still remains (Linz and Stepan, 1996), has sparked international concern since the 1980s. The international community is worried whether Hong Kong can maintain its prosperity, freedom, and stability after reverting its sovereignty.

There are two research problems to be explored in this book. First, why has Hong Kong constituted a rare anomaly to the popular modernization theory, i.e., achieved a high degree of socio-economic development without attaining a high degree of democracy? Second, what have been the constraints on Hong Kong’s democratization, especially between 1980 and mid-2002, i.e., when Hong Kong’s sovereignty reverted to China for five years? Given that the pre-handover Hong Kong and British Governments have attempted to democratize Hong Kong since 1984, and that for a long time Hong Kong has had a very favorable level of socio-economic development suitable for developing democracy, why was democracy, as defined by Dahl, 2 so lacking in Hong Kong between the mid-1980s and mid-2002, and why has full democracy been and will be precluded with at least until 2007 (Table 1.1)? 3

In face of the well-publicized Chinese Government’s opposition to Hong Kong’s democratization since the mid-1980s, one is tempted to argue that the opposition from the Chinese Government was a sufficient cause to explain the absence of a high degree of democracy in Hong Kong.

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