Keeping Democracy at Bay: Hong Kong and the Challenge of Chinese Political Reform

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Keeping Democracy at Bay: Hong Kong and the Challenge of Chinese Political Reform, by Suzanne Pepper. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008. x + 448 pp. US$85.00/£56.00/euro88.20 (hardcover), US$39.95/£26.00/euro40.95 (paperback).

The Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984 on reversion of sovereignty over Hong Kong from the British government to the Chinese government on 1 July 1997 not only signified the transformation of Hong Kong from a British colony to a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China (PRC) but also changed the territory's internal and external political environment in the years preceding and following the political transition. Apprehension at the Chinese government's increasingly authoritarian stance with regard to political and social control has become one of the key concerns of the Hong Kong people. In particular, the government's agenda for the democratization of Hong Kong's political system has been a major crux of local demonstrations and protest actions. Moreover, in the past Hong Kong was part of the Western alliance, tolerated by the PRC only as a window of foreign information and technology and because of its contribution to the Chinese economy. Since its return to Chinese sovereignty, Hong Kong has found itself in the crossfire of Sino-US relations.

Suzanne Pepper offers a unique perspective of Hong Kong's political evolution from its founding as a British colony to its present as a special administration region, with a focus on the interplay between colonial, capitalist, Communist and democratic forces that shaped Hong Kong's political culture and institutions. The book is divided into three sections, which examine, respectively, colonial foundations, local reforms during British rule, and Chinese rule in Hong Kong. In the section on colonial foundations, Pepper considers the British government's long delay in introducing representative government in relation to the naissance of Hong Kong amidst the mid-19th-century Anglo-Chinese trade wars, continual Hong Kong Chinese dissent and traditional forms of Chinese "self-governance". In the section on local reforms during British rule, she discusses the reasons for the eventual initiation of representative government in Hong Kong during the 1992-97 tenure of its last British governor, Christopher Patten-the reasons being deeply rooted in Britain's own struggles for electoral reform-and the PRC's pursuit of various ideologies and its more recent reopening to Western capitalism. …