An Alternative Mode of Moral Space Production: Marketizing Public Toilets in Colonial Hong Kong
This paper explores the capitalist turn of public toilet provision in 19th-century Hong Kong, which was shaped by the pursuit of speculative land rewards in the colony and nightsoil profit for use as fertiliser in the Chinese silk industry, challenging the colonial discourse of urban hygiene that toilets were morally charged urban spaces, shaped by the spatial technology of the colonial government over the lower-class Chinese bodily waste. A political economy approach shows that the provision emerged out of a complexity of collaboration and contestation between the government and Chinese landowners over urban space embedded in class and racial politics. A fear of environmental and morality contamination on Europeans and non-local space that disease originated from nightsoil lying in the Chinese quarter facilitated the landowners’ marketizing the moral space, mediated by profits from rent and the sale of the collected nightsoil. Through providing commercial public toilets, the elite landowners were strategic partners in the exercise of technologies over the lower-class Chinese. The product of both dirt containment and profit accumulation, the toilets were overlapping spaces that involved political and economic exchanges between government and landowners.A new form of moral geographies was produced; the capitalist and moral logics were blended within colonial urban governance.
Keywords - Colonialism, Moral geographies, Public infrastructures, Public health, Urban governance