glyph 295: China ... Sir John Cowperthwaite. ... free zones . openworld zones . free trade port ... anglosphere ... "Why is Hong Kong so free?" ... British law, socialism, sanctuary, refugees, informals ... colonialism ... Adam Smith ... Alvin Rabushka ... Vortex Lion Rock


"The Champion of Hong Kong's Freedom", by Christian Wignall

Sir John Cowperthwaite, Hong Kong, 1941 to 1971

A talk given at Free Exchange, November 15, 2003. Presented here as unfinished notes, courtesy of the author, Christian Wignall, March 3, 2006.

The psychology of the Chinese in the post war decades was that Hong Kong was a port in a storm, a (hopefully) temporary refuge. They did not feel themselves to be citizens, with a stake in Hong Kong's future. They felt only too lucky to be let in at all. Only with the passage of time has the sense of belonging and with it the pressure for democratic representation emerged.

Because government officials were appointed, not elected, they had no temptation to court short term popularity with bread and circuses, they took the long view. Because government officials were not elected but appointed it was possible for some quite unlikely types of people to rise to positions of great authority. It was in this manner that someone with ardently libertarian beliefs came to be one of the most powerful people in the government in the nineteen-sixties. His name was John James Cowperthwaite.


... Yeung Way Hong, publisher of Hong Kong's most popular Chinese language magazine, "Next," has suggested erecting an heroic-scale statue of John Cowperthwaite.

'I am absolutely certain that his personality and upbringing are responsible for Hong Kong's prosperity.' was the verdict of one observer.


Professor Alvin Rabushka, described Cowperthwaite thus: "[He was] brilliant, well-trained in economics, suffered no fools, and was highly principled. He wouldn't have lasted five minutes in a similar post in Britain, since he was not predisposed to compromise any of his principles - only the constitutional structure of Hong Kong allowed him that power."

And what exactly were those principles? Again, I quote: "True to the ethics of Scottish Protestantism, he hates to spend money - especially if it belongs to someone else (like the taxpayer). For example, he never spent any money on the upgrade of his official residence in HK. Though he had a budget to do so, he refused. His successor turned [the official residence] into a palace, because - as he said to Sir John -, 'he believed in luxury'. Sir John did not. For him his job was a duty, not a ticket to luxury and riches. So there we have it: 'true to the ethics of Scottish Protestantism'. This man was a philosophical son of another Scotsman, Adam Smith."

Another version of this talk, with additional information, given to the Civil Society, University of Santa Clara, January 2005. There is an appended essay (about 80% down the page), "Hong Kong stumbles along the road to serfdom".

Christian Wignall is the manager of Capstan LLC, an investment firm.

Sunday 23rd July, 2006, Andrew Work, The Lion Rock Institute, at the end of an article, "The Beginning of the End," wrote:

Sir John fought British tax-and-spend governments to keep Hong Kong free. He passed away earlier this year - it seems his legacy will not long outlive him. The people of Hong Kong saw the fastest reduction in poverty and greatest rise in wealth of any in Asia from our open market and small government. Now, higher spending commitments are being defended by a plan to harness citizens to government handouts paid for with their own earnings. I think it would have made Sir John sad.

Vortex Lion Rock: http// — China, an emerging free market society
entered before July 9, 2006; edited/updated November 19, 2016

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