A BORROWED PLACE by Frank Welsh

A BORROWED PLACE

The History of Hong Kong
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Scholarly, understated, massive history of the Crown Colony, from Britisher and former international banker Welsh. Hong Kong has been a source of embarrassment to both Britain and China from the outset. British Foreign Secretary Lord Palmerston sacked the envoy who negotiated the island's cession- -and, ever since, the colony has irritated Whitehall with scandals over drugs, prostitution, corruption, and, now, this dreary hand- over business. On China's end, it's the principle of the thing, a scar symbolic of a great wound. Here, Welsh covers events large and small. In 1854, he tells us, Hong Kong Governor Sir John Bowring precipitated a second Anglo-Chinese war, and, through his efforts, China was opened up to European travelers, missionaries, and traders. In 1894, plague struck, causing Governor Sir William Robinson to observe that the Chinese died ``like sheep,'' since they were ``educated to unsanitary habits...accustomed from infancy to herd together''--but Hong Kong survived to see the British accept a 99-year lease in 1898. The 1960's were the golden years of economic freedom, but, even though the populace prospered, hundreds of thousands suffered wretched temporary living conditions--such as sleeping in cardboard boxes near the Star Ferry terminal and even in wire cages at Mongkok. The events of 1972--when Hong Kong's future was decided by Britain and China--are still shrouded in a secrecy that Welsh doesn't dispel, stating only that some feel that if Britain hadn't approached China, China would have let matters lie because Hong Kong was too valuable a trading partner to lose. Welsh doesn't bring history to life so much as recite details, and even the fascinating characters and events that stipple his pages don't add much color. (For a livelier look at the island- colony, see Gerald Segal's The Fate of Hong Kong, p. 921.) (Sixteen pages of b&w illustrations--not seen)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 1-56836-002-9
Page count: 624pp
Publisher: Kodansha
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1993




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