For Asians (and expats in Asia), this has caused decades of arguments as to which is a better place to live, to work, and to play. Apart from the obvious – that Hong Kong is clearly better – a transnational history of these two ‘autonomous’ city-states might provide an ideal platform to definitively answer this age-old debate. In fact, I believe that if you analyze the importance of these two cities by their histories as nodes of transportation and, thus, communication (specifically during the period of a British-dominated Indian Ocean) you will discover the primacy of Hong Kong over Singapore as transnational centres in SE Asia.
Of course, this could be an essay topic in of itself so to attempt to answer this question in this blog post would be simply too much. However, what has become clear to me, through readings on the 1915 Singapore Mutiny and case-study analyses on 20th century Hong Kong government (under British rule), is that these two city-states are microcosms of the transnational world that they engage with and interact with through inter-regional networks. So, the essential backbone of my argument will be the progression of the two centres of transnational trade and movements from their 19th century usage by the British to the late-20th century. Additionally, a focus on the two centres in relation to the British Empire (and their actual importance to the British economy and rule – both in contemporaries’ and modern historians’ views) would be the second major point of analysis. Admittedly, the second point of this pro-HK argument will be more difficult to prove than the first. As such, I won’t even attempt to explain how I would go about proving this point; yet, I will note of the increasing importance being placed by historians on the British Empire’s usage of Singapore as a node of migration networks. Likewise, I would refer to Hong Kong’s rapid development from fishing village to centre of administration for British officials during their colonial-style domination of Chinese society and economy.
Relating back to the grander narrater of my argument – that is, the overall development of Singapore and Hong Kong within a set time frame (longue durée in a similar fashion to Hoerder) – I believe that focusing from the 1830s, which was more or less the decade of British colonisation for both city-states, it will be possible to denote the comparative importance that HK and Singapore held in the modern, globalised world. Initially, it would appear that Singapore was the more significant node of communication and trade, with the island becoming a global centre for rubber trade. However, as my argument evolves, I would highlight the reversal of roles in the global economy that occurred at the turn of the century. During the 1900s, the British saw a gradual rise in the use of Hong Kong as a global port and cosmopolitan city-state economy. Following the Second World War, Hong Kong became the definitive centre of British administration in the SE Asian region. It is not just that Hong Kong was the first of the Four Asian Tiger Economies to undergo rapid industrialisation; it is also the fact that control over Singapore weakened as British consolidation of power was threatened by natives and non-Singaporeans. Perhaps, Hong Kong can thank a more secure form of administration for its hyper-paced economical growth. Or perhaps, I have merely distorted facts to support my own conclusion – IT wouldn’t be surprising given the fact that I think Hong Kong is the greatest city [really a country :)] in the world.