Silencing Hong Kong: Press Censorship, Free Speech and Rule of Law in British Hong Kong (1850s–1940s)

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Conveners: School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies, University of Oxford China Centre

Speaker: Dr Michael Ng

Hong Kong is often praised for its rule-of-law colonial legacy, but Dr Michael Ng’s archival study argues that the rule of law that the people of Hong Kong are eager to preserve today is more a ‘legacy’ of the decolonisation process of the British Empire that began in the 1980s. Drawing on unexplored archival sources, the speaker will first discuss how the colonial government used libel lawsuits to punish the press for criticism of the government in the 19th century, before turning to describing in detail the daily mandatory vetting of Chinese newspapers by colonial censors under the office of the Secretary for Chinese Affairs and related prosecution cases in the early 20th century. By revealing how the press, the Chinese press in particular, was continuously and systematically monitored and pervasively censored through the collaborative efforts of executive actions, legislative provisions and judicial decisions, Dr. Ng explores how the British Empire managed the tension between the notion of a free press and its anxiety in governing colonies in the Far East. 

Dr Michael Ng is a legal historian focusing on the legal history of Republican China and colonial Hong Kong. He is the author of Legal Transplantation in Early 20th Century China – Practicing Law in Republican Beijing (1910s-1930s) (2014, Routledge), co-editor of Chinese Legal Reform and the Global Legal Order – Adoption and Adaptation (2017, Cambridge University Press) and Civil Unrest and Governance in Hong Kong – Law and Order from Historical and Cultural Perspectives (2017, Routledge). His works have also appeared in refereed journals such as Law and History Review, International Journal of Asian StudiesLaw and LiteratureBusiness HistoryJournal of Comparative Law, among others. Prior to joining HKU, Dr Ng has served in the legal and finance sectors for more than 15 years.