The best books on Hong Kong’s history and politics

Hong Kong

Professor Steve Tsang is Director of the SOAS China Institute. An expert on all things China, he is regularly asked to commentate for the BBC and Channel 4. In this blog, he talks about the best books on Hong Kong, starting with an introduction to his own book before sharing other book recommendations on the subject. 

A bit about me

I was born in colonial Hong Kong, and my teenage rebellion was anti-colonialism. So I went on a journey to rediscover ‘mother China’ by reading and visiting the Mainland. What I saw and learned first-hand contradicted what I had read of China, primarily Communist Party propaganda. The realisation that colonial Hong Kong treated its people so much better than in socialist China made me think, and started my interest in researching the history of Hong Kong. A Modern History of Hong Kong: 1841-1997 is the result, and based on years of research into the evolution of Hong Kong’s people, its British colonial rulers, as well as China’s policies towards Hong Kong.

My book: A Modern History of Hong Kong: 1841-1997

This is a highly readable history of British Hong Kong (1841-1997). It shows how Hong Kong developed from an autocratic British Colony that systematically discriminated against the local Chinese into an extraordinary and dynamic place, where its Chinese population enjoyed rights normally fully upheld only in democracies and, thus, came to respect and admire their last Governors.

It is full of colourful figures, heroes and villains, among the colonial elite. But the real heroes are the ordinary folks of Hong Kong, most of them refugees or decedents of refugees from China. They took advantage of the British judicial and political system, as well as economic and personal freedom, to transform Hong Kong from a backwater at the periphery of China into a global financial centre. They forged an identity, a vibrant culture, and a value system that set them apart from their compatriots in China. They created a capitalist haven that even the Communist Party of China agreed to preserve for fifty years when it took over sovereignty in 1997.


Other notable recommendations

Making Hong Kong China: The Rollback of Human Rights and the Rule of Law
By Michael C. Davis

Before Hong Kong people embraced the Sino-British agreement to cede Hong Kong’s sovereignty from Britain to China, China promised the people of Hong Kong they would enjoy a high degree of autonomy under the ‘one country, two systems’ framework so that their way of life and its socio-economic and political system would remain unchanged for 50 years, This ended in 2020, before the halfway point of the promised 50 years, when China imposed a National Security Law on Hong Kong that criminalized actions or speeches that people in Hong Kong were free to pursue hitherto. Davis provides a meticulous account of how China reneged its promises and rolled back human rights and the rule of law in Hong Kong.

For The Love Of Hong Kong: A Memoir From My City Under Siege
By Hana Meihan Davis

This is a short and very personal account by a young journalist born and brought up in Hong Kong. As her parents are academics who had also played activist roles in Hong Kong, Hana got to know some of Hong Kong’s democracy activists and fighters from a very young age. She writes with passion about why the young people of Hong Kong fight for democracy in Chinese Hong Kong, where the prospect of success was very dim, if not non-existent. If you are interested in how Hong Kong’s young people think about democracy, this is a good starting point.

A City Mismanaged: Hong Kong’s Struggle for Survival
By Leo F. Goodstadt

This is a cogent book on how Hong Kong’s Government has squandered a magnificent inheritance, a vibrant, energetic, and entrepreneurial people willing to engage with the government by neglecting their social rights. Goodstadt does so by examining housing, medical services, and education policy, as well as Hong Kong’s all important relationship with Mainland China. It is a readable piece of serious scholarship by someone who had served as the head of the government’s Central Policy Unit for over a decade in British Hong Kong. It explains the background to the social discontent that underpinned the massive protests of 2019, which triggered a dramatic change in China’s policy towards Hong Kong.


This blog was originally published on Shepherd.

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