After Hong Kong was placed under British rule, English was used as the only official language even though the absolute majority of people residing in the colony spoke nothing but Chinese. Chinese language began to be part of the government operation only in 1974, after two mass campaigns by a cross-section of Hong Kong society demanded an official status for the Chinese language (Fang 1993). However, Chinese remained secondary as all laws were still initially written, proposed, and interpreted in English. Chinese was then used only as a means of expediency. The primacy of English in Hong Kong followed from the linguistic attitude revealed in the Tianjin Treaty (see Article 50, below), which was signed between China and Great Britain in 1858 (Tsou 1997) and which extended Great Britain’s rule of Hong Kong to include Kowloon peninsular. In the treaty Chinese was designated an expediency without legal effect.

Article 50

All official communications, addressed by the Diplomat and Consular Agents of Her Majesty the Queen to the Chinese authorities, shall, henceforth, be written in English. They will for the present be accompanied by a Chinese version, but it is understood that, in the event of there being any difference of meaning between the English and Chinese texts, the English Government will hold the sense as expressed in the English text to be the correct sense. This provision is to apply to the Treaty now negotiated, the Chinese text of which has been carefully corrected by the English original.