1st Edition

Building Colonial Hong Kong Speculative Development and Segregation in the City

By Cecilia L. Chu Copyright 2022
    240 Pages 137 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    240 Pages 137 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    In the 1880s, Hong Kong was a booming colonial entrepôt, with many European, especially British, residents living in palatial mansions in the Mid-Levels and at the Peak. But it was also a ruthless migrant city where Chinese workers shared bedspaces in the crowded tenements of Taipingshan. Despite persistent inequality, Hong Kong never ceased to attract different classes of sojourners and immigrants, who strived to advance their social standing by accumulating wealth, especially through land and property speculation.

    In this engaging and extensively illustrated book, Cecilia L. Chu retells the ‘Hong Kong story’ by tracing the emergence of its ‘speculative landscape’ from the late nineteenth to the early decades of the twentieth century. Through a number of pivotal case studies, she highlights the contradictory logic of colonial urban development: the encouragement of native investment that supported a laissez-faire housing market, versus the imperative to segregate the populations in a hierarchical, colonial spatial order. Crucially, she shows that the production of Hong Kong’s urban landscapes was not a top-down process, but one that evolved through ongoing negotiations between different constituencies with vested interests in property. Further, her study reveals that the built environment was key to generating and attaining individual and collective aspirations in a racially divided, highly unequal, but nevertheless upwardly mobile, modernizing colonial city.

    Awarded 2023 Best Book in Non-North American Urban History by the Urban History Association.

    Preface and Acknowledgements.
    1. Framing Colonial Urban Development.
    2. A Dual City in the Making: Accumulation and Segregation in Nineteenth-Century Victoria.
    3. Combatting Nuisance: Urban Improvement and the Colonial Conundrum.
    4. Remapping Forms and Norms: From ‘Insanitary Properties’ to Modern Housing.
    5. Constructing Enclaves: A New Era of Suburban Development.
    6. The Housing Crisis and the Making of the Modern City.
    Afterword: ‘Old Hong Kong’ and the Present City.
    Abbreviations and Notes on Romanization.


    Trained as an urban historian with a background in design and conservation, Cecilia L. Chu is an Associate Professor in the Division of Landscape Architecture at the University of Hong Kong

    'This is a stellar, insight-filled, and beautifully written analysis of the built environment of one of the world’s most remarkable and still-politically-charged metropolises: ‘the fragrant harbour’ (Xianggang) or, as most know it, Hong Kong.… those with an interest in Hong Kong’s evolution – from a colonial entrepôt to a Chinese city … will learn key lessons from an extremely perceptive scholar, who writes with clarity and insight.'

    -Jeff Cody, The Getty Conservation Institute


    'Building Colonial Hong Kong is necessary reading for scholars and students of colonial urbanization and planning … Chu’s book is of significance to a much wider audience, who will find in colonial Hong Kong provocative and disquieting similarities to many of the challenges faced by contemporary planners around the world.'

    -Nick R. Smith, Barnard College

    'Chu’s book is a subtle and significant work in urban colonial history, exposing the speculation and self-interest that drove Hong Kong’s economy and that shaped so many lives through its physical production.'

    -Christopher Cowell, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, December 2023