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By Stephanie P.Y. Chung

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The Making of Republican Traditions At the beginning of this century, the major political changes in China set in motion large-scale participation by overseas Chinese in the national politics of China. A common theme invented by politicians and scholars alike to narrate these incidents, was that of ‘reform and revolution’. A central figure in this narrative was Sun Yat-sen. Sun’s career path is not substantially dissimilar to that of other selfstyled patriots found in Chinese history. As a reformer, he submitted a fruitless reform proposal to Li Hung-chang in 1895 (the year when Li’s 18 Chinese Business Groups and Political Change dominance and patronage collapsed).

40 The experiences of Hong Kong merchants with political investments in South China are most likely not isolated phenomena. The aspirations and exploits of Chinese merchants in Hong Kong who made the decision to invest in South China, and who exploited Chinese politics to do so, reflect a broader historical framework. They also touch upon issues that will be of interest to students of Hong Kong itself, as well as to readers in the wider fields of British colonial studies and modern Chinese history.

As a community marginal to the indigenous population of Hong Kong, enjoying relatively weak social and political status in the colony, they were attracted by the late Qing reforms which provided a favourable environment for their political participation and commercial activity in China. These returned migrants were mainly natives of Xiangshan and the four counties (Enping, Kaiping, Xinning, and Xinhui) known collectively as Siyi, two regions from which the greatest number of overseas labourers had originated, especially after the 1848 discovery of gold in California.

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