The best books on Hong Kong’s history and politics

Who am I?

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 realization 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.

I wrote...

A Modern History of Hong Kong: 1841-1997

By Steve Tsang,

Book cover of A Modern History of Hong Kong: 1841-1997

What is my book about?

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 colorful 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 center. 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.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Making Hong Kong China: The Rollback of Human Rights and the Rule of Law

Why did I love this book?

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.

By Michael C. Davis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Making Hong Kong China as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How can one of the world’s most free-wheeling cities transition from a vibrant global center of culture and finance into a subject of authoritarian control? As Beijing's anxious interference has grown, the “one country, two systems” model China promised Hong Kong has slowly drained away in the years since the 1997 handover. As “one country” seemed set to gobble up “two systems," the people of Hong Kong riveted the world’s attention in 2019 by defiantly demanding the autonomy, rule of law and basic freedoms they were promised. In 2020, the new National Security Law imposed by Beijing aimed to snuff…

Book cover of For The Love Of Hong Kong: A Memoir From My City Under Siege

Why did I love this book?

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.

By Hana Meihan Davis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked For The Love Of Hong Kong as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Journalist Hana Meihan Davis comes from a long line of democracy activists in Hong Kong. Today, they are either in exile or facing arrest.

Hong Kong, once a bastion of liberty and free speech, is now under the control of a repressive Chinese regime determined to silence dissent. In this searing, deeply personal memoir, Davis takes readers into the heart of her city that has come under siege -- and tells the astounding stories of the brave individuals who are resisting tyranny in a life-or-death struggle for freedom.


Hana Meihan Davis is a journalist and aspiring architect…

Myself a Mandarin

By Austin Coates,

Book cover of Myself a Mandarin

Why did I love this book?

This is a beautifully written and charming old book by a colonial administrator, who left government service young and turned to writing. It provides a vivid portrait of how a District Officer in the New Territories worked in the 1950s, when modernity was beginning to change the traditional way of life in old rural Hong Kong that was fast disappearing. It shows how a young dedicated colonial administrator being tasked to act as the ‘father and mother’ for the local Chinese community found his feet and try to do the best he could.

By Austin Coates,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Myself a Mandarin as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Unexpectedly appointed magistrate in a country district in Hong Kong, the author found himself plunged into a Chinese world about which he knew next to nothing and had to learn as fast as possible. This he does, taking the reader with him through the errors, puzzles, and bafflements of sixteen court cases which came into his court.

Whether he is dealing with cows, watercress beds, squatters, dragons, quarrelling wives, or a Buddhist abbot, the author brings his reader into each case as if the reader were the actual judge, and at a given moment the solution comes to the reader…

Book cover of The Last Governor: Chris Patten and the Handover of Hong Kong

Why did I love this book?

This is a highly readable book which portrays vividly the last British Governor, Chris Patten’s valiant efforts to do right by the people of Hong Kong in the final years of British rule. The author writes from the perspective of a liberal journalist sympathetic to the predicaments of the last Governor. Patten’s efforts were well received by many locals. Many showed appreciation by taking their families to colonial relics to capture their fond memories of colonial Hong Kong just before the British flag was lowered the last time, as Hong Kong was ordered to celebrate its return to China in 1997. It provides the background to why so many Hong Kong people seek refuge overseas after China reneged on its promises when it imposed the National Security Law in 2020.

By Jonathan Dimbleby,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Last Governor as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

1 July 1997 marked the end of British rule of Hong Kong, whereby this territory was passed into the hands of the People's Republic of China.

In 1992, Chris Patten, former chairman of the Conservative Party, was appointed Hong Kong's last governor, and was the man to oversee the handover ceremony of this former British colony.

Within the last five years of British rule, acclaimed journalist Jonathan Dimbleby was given unique access to the governor which enabled him to document the twists and turns of such an extraordinary diplomatic, political and personal drama.

As Governor, Patten encouraged the necessary expansion…

Book cover of A City Mismanaged: Hong Kong's Struggle for Survival

Why did I love this book?

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.

By Leo F. Goodstadt,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A City Mismanaged as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A City Mismanaged traces the collapse of good governance in Hong Kong, explains its causes, and exposes the damaging impact on the community’s quality of life. Leo Goodstadt argues that the current well-being and future survival of Hong Kong have been threatened by disastrous policy decisions made by chief executives and their principal officials. Individual chapters look at the most shocking examples of mismanagement: the government’s refusal to implement the Basic Law in full; official reluctance to halt the large-scale dilapidation of private sector homes into accommodation unfit for habitation; and ministerial toleration of the rise of new slums. Mismanagement…

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