IT aspires to be the ultimate book on Hong Kong - a collection of 600 photographs depicting Hong Kong as it was and how it is today. Along with the series of essays, Hong Kong: Return to the Heart of the Dragon certainly gives a detailed and colourful insight into the events and people which have shaped this tiny rock at the bottom of China. O&A Editions publishers, Paul Andrews and Charles Orchard, have spent just over a year creating the largest book ever produced on Hong Kong. With production costs of around $6 million, the book will be on the shelves by the beginning of next month, and its publishers believe they have created a book ''that surpasses anything else done on Hong Kong''. While archives and collections have been delved into to put together a varied and informative selection showing the Hong Kong of yesterday, some of the most fascinating photographs were taken during one week in August by two dozen photographers from HongKong and around the world. The team of specialists was brought together to capture Hong Kong in a new and revealing light - not an easy task in one of the world's most visited and photographed cities, as the book admits. For seven days the team covered Hong Kong from every angle - from the top of buildings and hanging out from helicopters, from the water and beneath the sea, and from Wan Chai to the New Territories. It was left largely in the hands of designer Peter Wong to whittle down the 7,000 frames shot to the final selection of 600 pictures which appear in the book's 288 pages. Established Hong Kong writers were commissioned to write essays about Hong Kong, presenting a comprehensive, though not in-depth, history of Hong Kong, which is presented with a series of enlightening anecdotes and images. Hong Kong had a recorded 7,450 original inhabitants of fishermen, pirates and peasants in the late 1700s when the scenes for dramatic change were set. The collapse of the Dutch and French East India Companies in the 1790s saw the ships of independent merchants, known as interlopers, appear on the Chinese coast. As guest author Jan Morris writes: ''Hong Kong was formally ceded to the British, and when the Union Jack went up over the island that January day [in 1841], it signalled the first significant loss of Chinese territory to the Outer Barbarians in all of Chinese history.'' In 1841, British Foreign Secretary, Lord Palmerston, described Hong Kong as ''a barren island with hardly a house upon it''. Just over 100 years later, and until then thriving Hong Kong was devastated by the Second World War. ''Lord Palmerston's safe haven for British merchants became a refuge for millions of Chinese. They transformed Hong Kong from a trading place into the great industrial city it is today,'' notes Arthur Hacker, another of the book's writers. There are tales of piracy, opium, official corruption and brothel keeping. There is also Hong Kong's ''terrible reputation as an unhealthy place'', earned because of the malaria, dysentery and bubonic plague which decimated the population. The subject of racism is also touched upon, such as in Frank Ching's essay, The Quiet Majority. ''There was little intercourse between Westerners and China [and the Chinese]. To the Westerners, it seems, the Chinese were largely anonymous. They had no names, no identity.'' Individuals were referred to as Chinaman No 1, Chinaman No 2 in court cases. Along with a detailed section on Hong Kong's colourful festivals, there is also a history of Hong Kong's line of governors. Tales about the overseers of Hong Kong - from Pottinger to the present-day Chris Patten - and the stories which go with their rulings, brings Hong Kong street names, buildings and landmarks to life. Andrews and Orchard wanted to create something which would not only be perfect for the visitor to Hong Kong, but also something for those who call Hong Kong home, presenting the territory's residents with images they have never seen.