Let There Be Light
How Electricity Made Modern Hong Kong
by Mark L. Clifford
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Pub Date 18 Jul 2023 | Archive Date 25 Oct 2023
The remarkable success of twentieth-century Hong Kong was driven by electricity. The British colony’s stunning export-driven economic growth, its status as a Cold War capitalist dynamo, its energetic civil society, its alluring urban modernity—all of these are stories of electricity’s transformative power.
Let There Be Light is a groundbreaking history of electrification in Hong Kong. Mark L. Clifford traces how a power company and its visionary founder jumpstarted Hong Kong’s postwar economic rise and set in motion far-reaching political and social change against the backdrop of Hong Kong’s shifting relations with the People’s Republic of China and the United Kingdom. Clifford examines avowedly laissez-faire Hong Kong’s attempt to nationalize electricity companies and the longer-term implications of debates over the power supply for citizen activism and the development of civil society, government involvement in tackling housing and other social issues, and state controls on private businesses.
Clifford explores the effects of electrification on both grand politics and daily life. In the geopolitical struggle of the Cold War, Hong Kong became an explicitly anti-Communist showcase of production and consumption. Its bright lights and neon signs stood in contrast to the darkness and drabness of neighboring China. Electricity transformed people’s everyday lives, allowing children to study at night, streets to be lit, and shops in a self-consciously commercial mecca to stay open late.
Offering new perspectives on twentieth-century Hong Kong, Let There Be Light reveals electricity as a catalyst of modernization.
Mark L. Clifford is president of the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation and the former executive director of the Asia Business Council. He was a director of Next Digital, publisher of the prodemocracy Apple Daily newspaper, and editor in chief of two English-language papers in Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post and The Standard. His books include The Greening of Asia: The Business Case for Solving Asia’s Environmental Emergency (Columbia, 2015). Clifford lived in Hong Kong from 1992 to 2020.