The Six-Day War of 1899 by Patrick H. Hase Hong Kong University Press, HK$250 Anyone living in the SAR soon forms a mental map of the territory, from Blake Pier and Lockhart Road up to the border via Kadoorie Farm. Similarly, residents compose a cerebral snapshot of Hong Kong's recent history, flagging the raising of the Union Flag in 1841, the ceding of the New Territories and the rain-sodden summer 99 years later. With the exception of the Japanese occupation, wars and battles have been limited to prices and takeovers, or so runs the popular perception. Patrick Hase casts both these concepts in a new light with his revealing book on the events of April 1899, when New Territories villagers took arms against the newly arrived British colonial power. Not so much a war as a short-lived insurrection characterised by skirmishes rather than battles, it was allowed to lapse into obscurity thanks to an official cover-up. As is so often the case in Hong Kong, this muddled, bloody affair blew up over money. The New Territories landowners were perturbed that the British occupation would affect their income; throw in a little xenophobia, a natural inclination for stubborn independence and a historically belligerent mentality and it didn't take the gentry long to stir up the rank and file. The tale blends Ripping Yarns with Ruritania: stockbroker G.H. Potts blithely organised two picnics at Castle Peak in the midst of hostilities. On the British side, despite the governor Sir Henry Blake and colonial secretary James Lockhart being keen Sinophiles, no hard intelligence reached the authorities that trouble was brewing. When fighting did break out, following the formal takeover ceremony in Tai Po, the military - comprising mainly Indian troops - was ill prepared and poorly led. As for the insurgents, age-old inter-clan squabbles complicated the order of battle and despite being more adept in military matters than might have been expected of the agricultural classes, they were hopelessly out-gunned. As poet Hilaire Belloc remarked: 'Whatever happens, we have got, the Maxim Gun and they have not'. Sir Hiram Maxim's best-known invention was not actually employed by the British in the New Territories, but they did make full use of artillery and naval armaments. About 500 Chinese were killed and the conflict subsided within a week. The most fascinating aspect of all this for the modern reader is the idea of flying shot and shell in the now peaceable environs of Tai Po, Kadoorie Farm and Kam Tin. Hase, who has spent much of his 36 years in Hong Kong studying the history and traditions of the New Territories, employs his scholarship to the full and while the descriptions of combat are a tad stilted, he relates the story from start to finish even-handedly and comprehensively, rendering Chinese names in characters and tracking down the memorial in Sha Po near Yuen Long. The question remains: why has this gripping affair failed to appear in history books until now? Simply, both sides wanted to put it behind them as quickly as possible. The governor had ordered the trouble to be put down with minimum force and the official military reports obligingly made light of the death toll. Blake spoke of 'passing a sponge over the affair' and seems to have neglected to examine the discrepancy between ammunition expended and casualties inflicted. The villagers had experimented with facing off naval broadsides with arquebus and culverin and had realised the tide had turned. As a footnote, autumn 1899 marked the start of the second Boer war, which saw the British army soundly defeated by bands of guerilla farmers and sounded the death knell of the empire.