The Politics of China-Hong Kong Relations: Living with Distant Masters

By Zhu, Zhiqun | International Social Science Review, January 2018 | Go to article overview

The Politics of China-Hong Kong Relations: Living with Distant Masters


Zhu, Zhiqun, International Social Science Review


Preston, Peter W. The Politics of China--Hong Kong Relations: Living with Distant Masters. Northampton: Edward Elgar, 2016. x + 230 pages. Hardcover, $120.00.

Hong Kong was formerly a colony of the British Empire. However, in 1997, it became a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China generally maintaining a separate political and economic system from China. This book is a thoughtful study of the delicate relationship between Hong Kong and the Chinese government by political sociologist Peter W. Preston. The book is divided into five chapters, with the first chapter framing Hong Kong in terms of sociological, political science, and cultural perspectives, and the second chapter discussing the historical trajectory of how Hong Kong became what it is through colonization. Chapters three and four focus on post-1997 elite and popular politics in Hong Kong, and the final chapter sketches out possible scenarios for the city's future, ranging from deep integration with the mainland to the Singapore model in which Hong Kong would have strong local leadership ready to upgrade its global footprint.

The Politics of China--Hong Kong Relations: Living with Distant Masters is thoroughly researched with extensive notes, and therefore provides a useful reference for those who are interested in learning more about Hong Kong's unique history, politics, and its relations with Beijing after 1997. Preston makes some penetrating points throughout the book. For example, he argues that what has happened in Hong Kong is a transfer of power between sovereigns made without considering the wishes of the local population, which makes the settlement inherently flawed and unstable in the long term. Joining the philosophical debate in the literature about Hong Kong that usually generates competing discourses about colonial rule, anti-communism, patriotism, democracy, and globalization, the author posits a new discourse: the self-construction of Hong Kong by local people as a process of embedding a new political settlement. He explains that a "viable settlement" between Hong Kong and the mainland remains to be constructed (p. 193).

The author sympathetically highlights the dilemma Hong Kong elites have faced in the form of "intrusive demands" of distant masters either in London or Beijing (p. 4). However, Preston's portrayal of Hong Kong-China relations is inevitably problematic based on his pessimistic assessment of the issues facing Hong Kong as it adjusts to rulers in Beijing. Preston paints a gloomy picture of Hong Kong's future and Hong Kong-Beijing relations, and makes some controversial statements. For instance, he suggests that since the first three Chief Executives "are widely taken to have failed," the system is "dysfunctional," and the current settlement is "failing" (p. …

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