Whiteness, Imperial Anxiety, and the “Global 1930s”: the White British League Debate in Hong Kong

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Abstract

What is a British colony for, and who is it for? These questions were at the crux of a heated public debate in 1933 in Hong Kong sparked when a British resident claimed to have formed an organization for the "protection and advancement" of the "British white race." This article explores how anxieties about fascism, white privilege, and "others" in the empire allowed the very idea of such a political movement to be elevated to the subject of a heated debate. The discussion on British unemployment, poor whites, and European "intruders" in the colony tells us less about the actual socio-economic conditions that Hong Kong Britons faced, than their subjective experience of being "British" in an imperial context. The articulation of imperial anxiety also shows us how the fluid, ambiguous borders of whiteness and Britishness were negotiated at the intersection of nationalism, ethnicity, class, and race. In highlighting the global perspectives demonstrated in the debate, and the various transnational networks sat across Hong Kong, I argue that the debate was as much about global socio-political circumstances as what was happening in Hong Kong. The article therefore provides us a timely opportunity to rethink how the local, "national," regional, and global was interwoven in the "global 1930s," even amongst the English reading public in the British colony of Hong Kong.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343-71
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of British Studies
Volume59
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 12 May 2020

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