The legacy of the British Empire
Hong Kong belonged to the British Empire and used to be a British crown colony until 1997 when the British returned Hong Kong to China. It is a typical example of how the British governed and administered their colonies all over the world (Burma, Iraq, Sudan, India, Cashmere, Nigeria etc.).
Even after Hong Kong had been handed over to the Chinese, it was governed according to British traditions, e.g. when Donald Tsang became chief executive of HK in 2005, he continued to act like his preceding British governors. No wonder as he had served under British rule in the HK Civil Service for 30 years. He acted like an autocrat as his British predecessors had done (with the exception of Chris Patten, the last British governor). Hierarchy, deference, individualism, government by elite administrators, united by education in the same institutions, in largely the same subjects - all features of British imperial rule - continued to be observed in his attitude. Even China had adopted more democratic views than HK.
The Cadet System
The cadets, the junior civil servants* who helped the Governor run Hong Kong, were recruited and trained in a system which was instituted by Hercules Robinson, the then governor, in 1862. The introduction of this cadet system created in Hong Kong a bureaucratic elite to replace the old mandarins who ran the Chinese Empire. The Chinese mandarin, deeply imbued with* the Confucian* classics, believed in the idea of a 'fumuguan', or father and mother official, whose duty was to treat the people under his administration like his own children. In the Chinese political tradition, this paternal metaphor was central to the idea of how a good official should behave. In the 1880s, the system of cadets in Hong Kong attained a shape it would retain till the 1940s, and central to the system was the dispatch of the young cadet to Canton for two years, when he was expected to learn Cantonese.
The degree of progress individual cadets made in learning about Chinese society, as well as mastering the language, was determined by their own industry and talents. A future governor of Hong Kong in the 1950s, Sir Alexander Grantham, described how he had worked hard as a young cadet in the 1920s, but, after passing the examinations, he could 'do no more than make myself understood when shopping' or 'read the easiest parts of a Chinese newspaper'. Others gained considerably more knowledge; Cecil Clementi, a prize-winning Classical scholar from Balliol College, Oxford, was recruited to the Hong Kong service in the 1890s and rapidly gained a fluency in spoken and written Cantonese which astonished the Chinese inhabitants of the colony. As governor in the 1920s, he was comfortable making public speeches in Cantonese and his linguistic skills were sufficiently good for Lu Xan, a renowned Chinese writer before the Second World War, to have mistaken a speech of Clementi's for an awkwardly written piece by a former official of the imperial dynasty. Some cadets used the two years to travel widely in China, while others, perhaps the majority, were quite happy to spend time socializing with their fellow cadets and among the expatriate community*.
The term 'cadet officer' remained in official use for almost a century, until 1960. These cadets have been described as a corps d'elite, a 'minuscule band of officials' with the same values and from the same social background. Their sense of superiority did not, as in the case of the taipans, stem from wealth or race. In terms of their own society, back in Britain, they were not generally from a high social class. It is true that they were nearly all public-school educated, but, in the fine distinctions prevalent at that time, the schools they attended were 'minor public schools and obscure private schools, not listed in the Public Schools Yearbook': only one cadet from Eton and two from Harrow have been identified among the eighty-five cadets whose educational provenance is known, over the eighty years between 1862, when the scheme was started, and the Japanese invasion of 1941. The majority of the cadets were educated at Oxford and Cambridge, although a substantial contingent — about 30 per cent — came from universities in Ireland and Scotland. The fathers of the cadets were, for the most part, members of the older professions — the law, medicine and, especially, the Church; few of the fathers were businessmen or shopkeepers. It is important to notice that none was from an aristocratic background. Like so much of the snobbery in the British Empire, the superiority of the cadets lay in their education, not in their social status in Britain or their bank balances. The typical Hong Kong cadet was remarkably similar to his counterpart in the Sudan; he 'came from a solid, though not rich, upper middle class family, went to a public school, but not to the most prestigious*, and then went up to one of the older universities where he read classics or history and was noted for his application to study and interest in healthy recreation*'. The cadets were from what one might term the public school middle classes, their main distinguishing features being a skill in passing exams and attendance at a fee-paying school, no matter how lowly.'
The cadets displayed an arrogance, at times, that was breathtaking. Reginald Stubbs, who had been Cecil Clementi's predecessor* as governor at the beginning of the 1920s, remembered them as being 'prepared to advance claims to act for the Almighty'. They saw themselves very much as prefects in the schools which had educated them. The model prefect was expected to be 'fair, just, upright, dignified'; ideas of equality were not really part of the public school prefect's* mental universe. Authority, law and order were more likely to be concepts with which he would be familiar. In this hierarchical and intensely bureaucratic world, ideas of protocol and precedence were particularly important. The cadets also put a high premium on sociability, and their experiences involved endless picnics, swimming, polo, golf, tennis and bridge. When the New Territories* (on the mainland and islands near by) were acquired on a ninety-nine-year lease in 1898, a further 350 square miles were added to the jurisdiction* of Hong Kong. This newly acquired* land offered the civil servants an opportunity to get out of the stifling* atmosphere of Hong Kong itself, and walking expeditions in the New Territories became popular.
Source: Ghosts of Empire - Britain's Legacies in the Modern World by Kwasi Kwarteng, pp. 335-337
* civil servants - Verwaltungsbeamte
imbued with - erfüllt von
* Confucianism - The core of Confucianism is humanism, the belief that human beings are teachable, improvable and perfectible through personal and communal endeavour especially including self-cultivation and self-creation. Confucianism focuses on the cultivation of virtue and maintenance of ethics.
* expatriate community - ständig im Aisland lebende Gemeinde
* prestigious - angesehen, renommiert
* predecessor - Vorgänger
* healthy recreation - gesunde Freizeitbeschäftigung (wer weiß, was Engländer darunter verstehen..wahrscheinlich auch in Pubs herumhängen...-:)
* prefect - In the context of schools, a prefect is a pupil who has been given limited authority over other pupils in the school, similar to the authority given to a hall monitor or safety patrol member.
* New Territories - New Territories is one of the three main regions of Hong Kong, alongside Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula. It makes up 86.2% of Hong Kong's territory. Historically, it is the region described in The Convention for the Extension of Hong Kong Territory. The New Territories were leased from Qing China to the United Kingdom in 1898 for 99 years in the Second Convention of Peking. Upon the expiration of the lease, sovereignty was transferred to People's Republic of China in 1997, together with the Qing ceded territories of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon Peninsula.
* jurisdiction - Zuständigkeitsbereich
* to acquire - erwerben
* stifling - stickig, erdrückend
1. How do the British cadet officers differ from the Chinese mandarins?
2. What social and educational backgrounds did teh cadet officers come from?
3. Arrogance and a feeling of superiority were characteristic of cadet officers. What disadvantages would these character traits have in a foreign country?
4. The last colonial governor of Hong Kong was Chris Patten. When he tried to make the crown colony more democratic, he had to face many difficulties. What do you think were the reasons for this?
5. From your knowledge about the British Empire, did the British have a more negative or a more positive impact on their colonies?