Middlemen, Colonial Officials, and Corruption: The rise and fall of government compradors in Hong Kong, 1840s–1850s


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Exploring the rise and fall of government compradors, this article highlights Sino-British collusion in the corruption and extortion cases of the Hong Kong colonial government in the 1840s and the 1850s. A number of compradors worked for the Hong Kong colonial government throughout the nineteenth century, acting as a key communication channel between Chinese residents and colonial officials in the formative years of the colony. Various institutions of the colonial government, for instance the Colonial Treasury, Post Office, and British military, employed compradors. Colonial officials also personally employed compradors, who supported their principals’ work in the government. However, a symbiotic relationship between corrupt colonial officials and compradors had become a public problem by the mid-1850s. The colonial government responded to this by diversifying its Chinese staff rather than depending on monopolistic compradors, and also launched a scheme to nurture and employ British personnel who could act as intermediaries between the British and Chinese communities. At the same time, different kinds of Chinese intermediary elites emerged in Hong Kong from the 1860s onwards, and government compradors’ monopolistic authority in mediating between colonial officials and the Chinese public gradually declined. The volatile government comprador system highlights a key phase in the history of the evolution of the comprador system in Hong Kong.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-32
Number of pages32
JournalModern Asian Studies
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 4 Jun 2018


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