Gender and Community under British Colonialism: Emotion, Struggle, and Politics in a Chinese Village, by Siu Keung Cheung. New York: Routhledge, 2007. xvi + 199 pp. US$95.00 (hardcover).
The book provides an interesting analysis of how colonial governance and Chinese cultural traditions interacted to produce patriarchal ruling practices in the New Territories of Hong Kong. It considers how villagers defended their interests in the village community and the impact of gender roles in everyday life during the colonial regime. Rich ethnographic data demonstrate how male and female villagers in an agnatic organization deal differently with a colonial-cum-patriarchal legacy.
The book begins by arguing that self-contradictory ruling practices were maintained during the colonial regime to balance the shifting needs at different times. Tbe arguments on colonial policy draw heavily upon claims made by Allen Chun, who has pointed out that the contradictory practice of indirect rule in the New Territories was also used in other colonies such as Fiji and India. Three issues could have been examined to provide readers with a better understanding of these practices in Hong Kong. First, the variations in policy execution by different colonial officials over time should be noted because their different attitudes to the "Chinese traditional village" resulted in different ways of implementing "indirect rule". Secondly, the "self-contradictory" ruling practices resulted from changes in the power relationships between colonial officers and villagers at different periods of the colonial regime, especially in the postwar period when the New Territories began urbanizing and land prices started to skyrocket. In particular, the role of Heung Yee Kuk, a political organization representing New Territories inhabitants, should have been investigated to understand how "flexible arrangements" and "negotiable areas" were reached in the postwar period. Third, the impact of "global" colonial politics on the Heung Yee Kuk should have been noted, as compared to that on ethnic minorities in other colonial contexts.
The book adds value to the literature on gender in Hong Kong by revealing how the dominant patriarchal discourse overestimates male capacity and thus by questioning patriarchy as an ideal model. Indeed, "male hedonism, self-indulgence, mediocrity and stupidity fundamentally undermined the high domestic expectations of them and the prevailing patriarchal discourse" (p. 94). The author provides good ethnographic accounts of how women participated in communal meetings, made decisions on family inheritance and engaged heavily in discussions on the sale of the trust's land through their own social networks. To strengthen the author's argument on the active agency and self-reflexivity of women with regard to property rights in family and ancestral trusts, it may be worth investigating how various types of networks within or outside the village have empowered these women. …