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.

The books I picked & why

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

By Michael C. Davis,

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

Why 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.

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

By Hana Meihan Davis,

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

Why 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.

Myself a Mandarin

By Austin Coates,

Book cover of Myself a Mandarin

Why 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.

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

By Jonathan Dimbleby,

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

Why 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.

A City Mismanaged: Hong Kong's Struggle for Survival

By Leo F. Goodstadt,

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

Why 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.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Hong Kong, China, and civil rights?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Hong Kong, China, and civil rights.

Hong Kong Explore 21 books about Hong Kong
China Explore 399 books about China
Civil Rights Explore 99 books about civil rights

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Changing Legal Orders in Hong Kong and Mainland China, Whispers and Moans, and The Communist Party of China and Marxism 1921-1985 if you like this list.