[URBANTH-L]New Urban Anthropology Book: Alan Smart, The Shek Kip Mei Myth

Angela Jancius acjancius at ysu.edu
Fri Jun 16 11:53:18 EDT 2006

Alan Smart. _The Shek Kip Mei Myth: Squatters, fires and colonial rule in
Hong Kong, 1950-1963_.  Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2006.

http://www.hkupress.org/book/9622097936.htm paperback
http://www.hkupress.org/book/9622097928.htm hardback

Alan Smart raises serious questions about the standard view that Hong
Kong¡s mass public housing programme was a direct and humane response by
the Government to the Shek Kip Mei fire. Rather he argues that the
Government¡s response to that fire was grudging and incremental rather
than a sharp and radical turning point, and that the security and
stability of Hong Kong weighed as heavily, possibly more so, in the
decisions than the predicament of the fire victims. His research shows
that a whole sequence of major fires after Shek Kip Mei, and the political
costs of the Mainland sending comfort missions to fire victims both before
and after were needed to bring about the final commitment to provide mass
public housing. In his critical examination of the conventional position,
Professor Smart bases his case on a thorough reading of government records
and provides a careful investigation into the origins of the public
housing policy in Hong Kong.

This volume makes an important contrarian contribution to the postwar
history of Hong Kong and is a significant addition to the study of its
modern development.

Alan Smart is a Professor in the Department of Anthropology, University of
Calgary, Canada. His previous book on Hong Kong¡s housing was Making Room:
Squatter Clearance in Hong Kong (Hong Kong: Centre of Asian Studies,

"A major contribution to our understanding of Hong Kong¡s social history,
this very readable study of public housing is highly relevant to
contemporary Hong Kong. Alan Smart writes first class history with great
conviction and, based on his own experience of their living conditions,
with a special sensitivity to the squatter family and its struggle for
As he reconstructs in masterly fashion the transition from the squalid
squatter colonies of early postwar Hong Kong to the massive public housing
programmes that have transformed the living standards of so many Hong Kong
families, he reveals the government¡s reluctant acceptance of
responsibility for providing decent housing for the community. In the
process, he uncovers the serious handicaps of an unelected colonial
administration. Professor Smart¡s work is a remarkable piece of research
into Hong Kong¡s most pressing social problem."
-- Leo F. Goodstadt

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