Stranded Britons: Hong Kong and Falkland Islanders at Empire's End

Seminar with Mark Hampton, Lingnan University and Ezequiel Mercau, University of Copenhagen

Time: 2013-04-11 9:15 to 11:00
Place: 23.2.39 (New KUA)
Organizer: The Embers of Empire Project, the World History Workshop, and the Institute for English, Germanic & Romance Studies

Mark Hampton, Lingnan University; Hong Kong in the Decolonization Narrative:  the politics of British exodus, 1980s-1990s
As John Darwin noted in 1997, Hong Kong has typically been left out of narratives of British decolonization, perhaps because it did not fit the familiar chronology of decolonization and because Hong Kong was never destined for independence.  In addition, Hong Kong was not a settler colony in which kith and kin Britons became "abandoned Britons," nor did it contain widespread popular clamoring for a British exodus.  This paper argues, though, that the decolonization of Hong Kong should not be set aside as an aberration.  Rather, it both adds to the complexity of our decolonization narratives, and also illuminates ways in which familiar themes and strategies were recast in order to accommodate Hong Kong's unusual colonial context. 
Specifically, this paper examines the ways in which the Thatcher government very quickly and pragmatically moved from a defiant post-Falklands refusal to consider decolonization, to an effort to consolidate an appropriate legacy of British rule in Hong Kong (an effort that accelerated during the Major/ Patten years).  It also examines the efforts of Hong Kong activists to assert to the British Government their rights as Britons, even while asserting their attachment to post-Handover Hong Kong.  At the same time, following the Joint Declaration and the establishment of the Basic Law, the Hong Kong Government attempted to ensure its institutional continuity after the change of sovereignty.  All three of these efforts potentially conflicted with each other, and also were complicated by British domestic politics (especially the politics of immigration and race), Britain's diplomatic relations with China, and post-Tiananmen anxieties that threatened to drive away Hong Kong's professional and entrepreneurial classes. 

Ezequiel Mercau, University of Copenhagen: Abandoned Britons in the South Atlantic: the story of the Falkland Islanders before the 1982 war

Thanks to the Falklands War of 1982, many people can now locate the islands on a map – something that very few people were able to do before the conflict. Moreover, the recent confrontations between the British Prime Minister and the Argentine President surrounding the 30th anniversary of the war have sparked a renewed interest in the islands. So many people are now familiar with the Falklands War at this stage. However, in this paper I look at a less well-known side to the Falklands: the story of the abandonment of the islanders during the seventeen years of negotiations that preceded the conflict. Just like other ‘kith-and-kin’ loyal Britons in ‘Greater Britain’, the Falkland Islanders perceived many actions of the British government — sovereignty negotiations with Argentina, lack of economic support, defence cutbacks, the redefinition of ‘Britishness’ etc – as signs of betrayal, deceit and duplicity. All these feelings came to an abrupt end, however, with the Argentine invasion.  The British government performed a spectacular policy U-turn and reversed all the processes from the previous two decades.
I argue that this story is important in understanding the break-up of Greater Britain and its possible connections with the fate of Britishness. Indeed, although the ‘abandonment’ of the Falklands did not have the same economic and military impact as that of the Dominions, their ‘repossession’ had an important effect on the way the British saw themselves — and it greatly changed their attitudes towards the islanders.
Suggested readings:

Mark Hampton, ‘British Legal Culture and Colonial Governance: The Attack on Corruption in Hong Kong, 1968-1974’, Britain and the World 5.2 (2012).

Klaus Dodds, ‘Kith and Kin: Race, Nationalism and the Falkland Islands’ in Pink Ice: Britain and the South Atlantic Empire (London, I.B. Tauris, 2002), ch. 7.

All are welcome.

World History Workshop is an academic forum for the exchange of ideas among students and scholars of the humanities and social sciences with an interest in world history.

The seminar is funded by the Velux Foundation.