In ‘The Hong Kong Diaries’, Chris Patten gives behind-the-scenes look into the city’s handover to China

Andrew Yuan
  • The city’s last British governor describes how Hong Kong was run under Britain, and the process of transferring it to China
  • The book, released 25 years after the historic event, is a collection of Patten’s personal writings that act as a corridor bridging the past and present
Andrew Yuan |

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Chris Patten (right) receives the Union Jack flag after it was lowered for the last time at the governor’s official residence during a farewell ceremony in Hong Kong, on June 30, 1997. Photo: AFP

“A city I love,” says Lord Chris Patten in his newest book Hong Kong Diaries, which sheds light on his tenure as the last British governor of Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong Diaries, released 25 years after Hong Kong’s handover to mainland China, is a collection of Patten’s personal writings that describe his time as governor, how the city was run under Britain, and the process of transferring it to China.

Although the handover ceremony on July 1, 1997, was met with international praise, there were many hardships and struggles behind the scenes. In his book, Patten highlights his attempts to ensure that the proposed government of the Special Administrative Region would meet the promises made under the Sino-British Joint Declarations.

Chris Patten’s book discusses his tenure as governor of Hong Kong during a unique time. Photo: Penguin Books Ltd

Patten faced challenges that previous governors hadn’t, not just because of the handover but because he took up the job at a unique time: in 1992, only three years after the Tiananmen Square protests. As controversies and concerns about the Chinese Communist Party circulated abroad, the protests at Tiananmen cast a shadow over the handover. Patten himself remained doubtful of Beijing’s commitment to the “one country, two systems” model.

The former governor also reflects on the difficulty of balancing Hong Kong’s colonial past with British efforts to preserve the city as it was, adding that he saw the handover as a threat to the economic autonomy, capitalism and free trade that had helped build Hong Kong.

Overall, The Hong Kong Diaries is a satisfying, nostalgic read. Hongkongers who want to learn more about local history and how the city has evolved should read Patten’s insight into Hong Kong’s historical transition during the handover. Since the novel is written as a diary, the book helps readers empathise with both Western opposition to the handover and Beijing’s insistence on Hong Kong’s return.

The Hong Kong Diaries is a corridor bridging Hong Kong’s past and present and an enjoyable book regardless of one’s political views.

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