Power and Charity

A Chinese Merchant Elite in Colonial Hong Kong


Elizabeth Sinn

ISBN : 978-962-209-669-1

History Echoes: Classics in Hong Kong Culture and History

October 2003

344 pages, 6″ x 9″, 9 b&w illus.

  • HK$195.00

Through the history of a charitable institution, the Tung Wah Hospital, Elizabeth Sinn reshapes and greatly deepens our understanding of the evolving interactions between the Chinese community in Hong Kong and the colonial rulers. She traces the rise to power of the Chinese merchants who organized and operated the Hospital and the complex relationships that the Hospital developed with the colonial regime, Mainland Chinese officials and the Chinese people of Hong Kong.

As the first organized merchant elite recognized by the colonial government, the Tung Wah Hospital Committee played a crucial political role in nineteenth-century Hong Kong, mediating between ordinary Chinese and the colonial administration. Elizabeth Sinn’s classic and pioneering study shows the great extent to which the Hospital’s history is the history of Hong Kong itself.

The author highlights the problems encountered by the Hong Kong government in managing a foreign population and the role of the Chinese local elite in a colonial situation, while also exploring the complex but fascinating relations between the Chinese residents in Hong Kong and Chinese officials on the Mainland, and between Hong Kong and other Chinese communities.

Based on primary source materials, this is an original and refreshing contribution to the study of Hong Kong and modern Chinese history which reveals and discusses many fundamental issues that are entirely relevant today.

In a new preface to this paperback edition, Dr. Sinn reconsiders her work in the light of subsequent research on Hong Kong’s history and connects it to recent developments in international scholarly work especially with respect to the study of philanthropy and to ideas of world history.

Elizabeth Sinn was appointed Honorary Associate Professor at the University of Hong Kong after she retired in 2004. Her other books include Growing with Hong Kong: The Bank of East Asia 1919–1994 (1994), The Last Half Century of Chinese Overseas (1998) and Rethinking Hong Kong: New Paradigms, New Perspectives (2009). She is leading the Hong Kong Memory Project to build a website for sources on memory and history, culture and heritage.

“An excellent blend of history and ethnography. Power and Charity is one of the best books available on the everyday practice of colonialism in British Hong Kong. Sinn provides unique insights into a system that is fast becoming a distant memory. This book is required reading for anyone interested in colonialism, medical history, or urban anthropology.” —James L. Watson, Professor of Anthropology, Harvard University

“Dr. Sinn’s book . . . is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand Hong Kong society and politics in the nineteenth century.” —Ian Scott, Journal of the Hong Kong Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society

“(Dr. Sinn’s) book is a fascinating and awesomely researched account of the (Chinese) community’s efforts to hold its own in a foreign-dominated enclave.” —Philip Snow, Far Eastern Economic Review