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Liberal utilitarian and humanitarian arguments provided for the innovations in colonial government that administered the conduct of labor, movement, and trade in the post–Opium War Chinese treaty ports, and criminal justice in the new Crown Colony of Hong Kong. This chapter discusses John Stuart Mill’s writings on free trade and representative government together with India Office and Foreign Office records regarding post–Opium War coastal China and Hong Kong. The new form of imperial governance expressed by nineteenth-century “free trade” in India and China consisted in the power to adapt and improvise combinations of colonial conquest with new forms of migrant labor, monopoly with laissez-faire, and an older-style colonial territorial rule with new forms of security and governed mobility. Innovations in scope, method, and targets of governance gradually changed British imperial strategy, over the course of the nineteenth century, from an exclusive system of colonial seizure, occupation and slavery to imperial sovereignty whose command included global trades in goods and people, manufacture on the Indian subcontinent and trade through treaty ports, classification and criminalization of populations, the racialization and policing of sexuality, and a military state of exception to command the seas. Liberal ideas did not contravene these practices; they accommodated existing forms of plantation slavery and colonial occupation, while providing rationales for the innovation of new forms of imperial sovereignty for managing ports, seas, and population.

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