This chapter explores debates about maritime quarantine and isolation in Hong Kong during the 1880s and 1890s in relation to broader British colonial and imperial concerns about borders. In recent years, there has been a new emphasis on histories of mobility across South and Southeast Asia, particularly on the interrelationship between indigenous mobility, state formation and the construction of modern political borders.1 In his account of the delineation of new frontiers in Southeast Asia from the 1860s to the First World War, for example, Eric Tagliacozzo has demonstrated what he calls the ‘paradoxical dynamic’ of boundary production and transgression through contrabanding. His focus is on the creation of a 3000-kilometre boundary between Dutch and British colonial regimes in the Straits of Malacca (Melaka), which made visible particular forms of illicit mobility, even as the ‘wild space’ of the frontier disclosed the vulnerability of colonial rule.2 This chapter likewise contributes to the growing literature on how states see; it considers institutions of quarantine and isolation in relation to the ‘optics of states, especially along frontiers’.3 Although globalisation is often conceptualised in terms of transnational flows, it may also be understood in relation to ‘processes of closure, entrapment, and containment’.4 The emphasis here is on conflicts that arose from simultaneous attempts by colonial agents to promote certain kinds of healthy circulations while impeding other forms of cross-border mobility that were deemed deleterious. In particular, an analysis of the arguments for and against constraints on mobility during a plague epidemic in 1894 serves to demonstrate the diverse factors shaping the imposition and response to quarantine and isolation measures in Hong Kong.
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