Scholars have found it difficult to incorporate Hong Kong’s experience into theories of comparative politics. According to some influential arguments, a society with Hong Kong’s high per capita GDP, large middle class, and modernistic culture should develop a citizenry that is politically aware and engaged, mobilized, and assertive. This is not to deny that Hong Kong’s political system has been dominated by outside rulers - London before 1997 and Beijing since - so that its citizens lack the ultimate power of choice over their own politics. But even taking this into account, Hong Kong citizens’ lack of assertiveness has been striking.
It is in posing the problem this way that Ming Sing’s book makes its first contribution. According to Professor Sing, it is fallacious, if tempting, to argue that Hong Kong’s failure to democratize presents no puzzle just because the territory is not sovereign and the key decisions on its political evolution were made elsewhere. This is true, but it is not the whole story: decisions in London and Beijing interacted with events in the territory. Had citizens organized more widely, spoken more loudly, pushed more energetically - as did happen, for example, around the time of the 1989 Tiananmen Square events - then decision-makers in the metropolitan capitals would have acted differently, Sing persuasively argues.
Thus, what Sing calls the tortuous process of Hong Kong’s democratization - now, indeed, as far as we can tell, actually moving in reverse - is the product of dual causation, reflecting the interaction of forces outside the territory and those within. This insight opens the way to analyzing the domestic determinants of Hong Kong’s fate. Sing probes deeply into the mechanisms of Hong Kong’s domestic politics, through interviews, surveys, and historical narrative.
He explores several lines of causation that explain Hong Kong citizens’ political apathy and fatalism. He shows that civil society in Hong Kong is weak because the British colonial government discouraged its growth, partly for its own convenience and partly to avoid developments that it