5.0 out of 5 stars
Lessons beyond the history of the colony, Oct 8 2003
In this well-researched and well-written book, Phillip Snow traces the history of the British Colony of Hong Kong, with the intent to show why Britain ultimately returned the colony to China. His thesis is that the Japanese occupation, a brief period of 3 years 8 months, out of the more than 100 years that the colony was in British hands, was the critical watershed which made British relinquishment inevitable. Britain's prestige and authority were mortally wounded by the loss of Hong Kong and the other colonies in South East Asia to the Japanese. This weakened position set in train a chain of events that ultimately lead to 1997. The story is a fascinating one.
Snow also traces the waves of reform and repression that Hong Kong's rulers have pursued over the years. He argues that the periods of liberalism were driven by outside events and calculations, rather than a sincere concern for the welfare Hong Kong's citizens, but gives credit to the efforts and the truly liberal figures in each of the administrations, pre-war British, Japanese, and post-war British. Snow is at some pains to give the benefit of the doubt to each of these regimes, and the work is fair and even-handed.
Although the Fall of Hong Kong was clearly written for the British audience struggling to come to terms with the substantial end of their empire, it should be of great value to the Hong Kong Chinese, who are also struggling to understand their history and place in the world. However, it would also be very useful to any students of empire, as phases of liberalism and oppression, enlistment and alienation of the society's elites, by both the Japanese and British, give excellent lessons to anyone contemplating ruling another nation with a different culture.
Finally, it is an excellent survey of the 20th Century history of Hong Kong, which will be invaluable to any student of the period. This work and its extensive footnotes should stimulate a mini-boom in research on the period.