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Crime and Socio-Economic Change in Hong Kong

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Expanded crime has been linked with increasing affluence in the United States and Europe, the dislocation of tribal peoples in Africa, and a widening disparity between rich and poor in Latin America. In short, it appears that virtually any part of the world that has been touched by urbanization, industrialization, and economic development must expect increases in crime and delinquency (Cf. Wolf, 1971, Christiansen, 1960). However, crime in Asia has received somewhat less than its fair share of attention. The assumption appears to be that in contrast to other parts of the world a unique combination of cultural values has enabled many Asian countries to maintain low rates of crime in the face of extensive social and economic change (Cf. Schmitt, 1963; Canter and Canter, 1971, and Behrman, 1976). While there can be little doubt that the level of crime in Asian countries is generally below that found in advanced western industrial societies, this is not to say that significant increases in crime have not been observed. Hong Kong is a case in point. More than most societies Hong Kong has managed to successfully compress a great deal of social and economic change into a relatively brief period of time, and during this same period Hong Kong has also experienced pronounced increases in many types of crime. This article reports on an effort to measure trends in crime in Hong Kong and determine what social and economic forces might lie back of these trends. Concentrating on the relation between crime trends and social and economic change shifts attention away from the offender to the offense. Individual motivations obviously has a role to play in crime, but this alone cannot adequately explain why the volume of crime changes over time or why it should apparently be higher in one country than in another. Viewed in this way crime begins to take on a wider significance than if it were merely an expression of personal characteristics or an abberation existing in what would otherwise be a healthy society. Among other things, the magnitude to crime in society and the direction it is moving in may serve as an important means for better understanding how society itself works and what is happening to it.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Sociology, University of Hong Kong


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