The Gate to China: A New History of the People’s Republic & Hong Kong by Michael Sheridan - review by Tim Summers

Tim Summers

Caught Between Two Empires

The Gate to China: A New History of the People’s Republic & Hong Kong


William Collins 512pp £25

Events in Hong Kong over recent years have given rise to a flurry of books examining politics in the former British colony. Michael Sheridan’s highly readable The Gate to China offers a substantial history of Hong Kong from its early days as a colony to the aftermath of the violent and widely reported unrest in 2019. Sheridan is well qualified for the task, having covered China as Far East correspondent for the Sunday Times for two decades, including during the handover of Hong Kong from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

Early chapters take us from the ‘merchants and mandarins’ who shaped the 19th-century colony to China’s opening up under Mao’s successor Deng Xiaoping from 1978 onwards. This sets the scene for the Sino-British negotiations over Hong Kong’s future that began in 1982. Sheridan covers these talks in engaging detail, drawing on both British sources and some of the memoirs published by officials involved on the Chinese side (though there are fewer views from Hong Kong). He adds colour to existing accounts, with brief references to, among other things, the carnal appetites of some of the Chinese negotiators.

Sheridan demonstrates the challenges faced by the British in balancing idealism and political pressures at home with the need to reach a realistic and achievable settlement with the Chinese. David Wilson, governor of Hong Kong from 1987 to 1992, ‘steps out of the shadows’ here as a key figure

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