The Hong Kong Diaries by Chris Patten - review by Stephen Vines

Stephen Vines

What the Governor Saw

The Hong Kong Diaries


Allen Lane 522pp £30

It is extremely rare to be able to predict a turning point in history far in advance. Yet a prediction about the course events would take could most definitely have been made in 1984, when Britain agreed to hand over its last remaining major colony to China at the stroke of midnight on 30 June 1997. With history so evidently in the making, Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s last governor, who played a central role in the twilight years of colonial rule there, made it his business to keep a detailed record of this turbulent period.

His diary, published to coincide with the twenty-fifth anniversary of the handover, is wonderfully waspish, fascinating and rude in spades about all the people who deserve nothing less. Hong Kong mavens will find it satisfyingly detailed, but there may be a tad too much information for general readers, even though several hundred thousand words were cut prior to publication.

What the diary chronicles is a catalogue of misjudgements and false hopes. Patten freely concedes the irony of having effectively been chosen for the role of unelected governor of Hong Kong by the voters of Bath, who rejected him as their MP in the 1992 election. At the time,

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