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Economic history of Hong Kong during the 20th century

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  1. Introduction
  2. The patterns of economic activity in Hong Kong
  3. The Hong Kong legal system
  4. The expansion of capitalism in the age of globalization
  5. The first major change in the Hong Kong's economy
  6. The composition of the Hong Kong work-force during the 50's and 60's
  7. The export market for manufactured goods
  8. Trade with China
  9. Conclusion
  10. Bibliography

In this essay I will explore the economic history of Hong Kong during the 20th century. Hong Kong, during this period, I will argue, went from an entrepot trading outpost, which nevertheless attracted large British trading companies, to a major independent regional trading center. I will start by exploring the changes that took place in the Hong Kong economy during the 1950's and 60's, when the economy and culture established some of the patterns that would persist, and that would enable Hong Kong to become a significant economic force in the Asia-Pacific region. I will then explore the changes in the economy during the 1970's, the period when China opened its markets in a limited way to foreigners. The patterns of economic activity in Hong Kong shifted during this period, matching the shifts in the political structure of the entire world economy. This period is marked by a growing interest in the economic possibilities in the Asia-Pacific region by the West. I note that Hong Kong was favorably placed geographically, and also had the type of regulatory environment that enabled foreign financial firms to establish major branches in Hong Kong. During this period, too, Hong Kong became a major trading partner with China, and trade with other countries in the region (Taiwan, Singapore, and Japan) also increased significantly.

[...] At the same time, Hong Kong has been the beneficiary of the growing importance of the Asia-Pacific region in the world economic system. Hong Kong is situated in a central position geographically, and has a stable currency and economy, factors which have attracted major international financial institutions. The international financial industry accounted for of Hong Kong's GDP by 1978 (Yao, 1979). Trade in the same Asia-Pacific region was growing exponentially during the period between 1975 and 1995, and Hong Kong benefited from this growth in trade. [...]

[...] After the initial period of economic change during the 1950's and 60's, Hong Kong has continued to flourish as a manufacturing base. However, Eng provides details of the limited statistics available for the period between 1950 and 1992, showing the gradual decline of the manufacturing sector as a source of employment, from in 1966 to in 1992. Eng argues that there are several reasons why the Hong Kong light manufacturing sector has declined since China opened its doors to foreign manufactures in the 1970's: lower labor costs found in mainland China, more regulation of labor practices in Hong Kong, and a clash between the higher expectations of second or third-generation Hong Kong residents and the pressure on firms, due to global competition, to continue to keep costs as low as possible. [...]

[...] The economic model in Hong Kong during the 1950's and 60's, created by the indifference of the British, was transferred to areas of mainland China. We can see this configuration of lack of legal oversight and large pool of unskilled labor in the special business zones that have been created in other parts of the world, such as the Mexican Maquiladoras. These special business zones, like Hong during the 1950s and 1960s provide greater control for businesses, and therefore, the opportunity for greater profits. [...]

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