The Hong Kong Diaries

Yesterday’s Post Magazine of SCMP included an excerpt of Chris Patten’s latest book The Hong Kong Diaries which was published by Penguin Allen Lane early June 2022, ostensibly to mark the 25th anniversary of the return of sovereignty of Hong Kong to China, which effectively was the last month – June 1997 – he was in Hong Kong as the 28th and last Governor of Hong Kong. Those of you who had taken time to read the Open Letter to Boris Johnson by Grenville Cross on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the Establishment of the HKSAR would have picked up from his letter that Patten’s anti-China rants would probably promote the sales of The Hong Kong Diaries, but Cross warned Johnson in the same breath of Patten’s skills in myth-making, adding that, “While he can certainly talk the talk, he is bad news all round, and, insofar he has any residual value, it is only as a tool of US foreign policy. You may, moreover, agree that it is the rankest of hypocrisy for someone who was imposed on Hong Kong in 1992 without any consultation, shortly after his own Somerset electors had kicked him out, and who is now an unelected life member of the UK Parliament, to be pontificating away about democracy in Hong Kong.”

Nevertheless, the excerpt prompted me to find out through the internet more about Patten’s latest book. It turned out that our senior counsel and law professorhad written another article published in China Daily on 28 June under the title, “The Hong Kong Diaries: Patten revives colonialism, trying to attract interest.”   Go for it. It is good read.  His article ended with the conclusion that Patten, in his eagerness to drum up publicity for the new release, had revealed himself to have been an old-fashioned colonialist all along.  He wished Patten luck if he thought that it was a price worth paying to flog some books, but he wished prospective readers would find Patten’s diaries “not as badly flawed as his latest pronouncements.” My labour on the internet also revealed that the book comes in 560 pages, is available on Amazon at £40 plus, including shipment, and HK$420 at Book Depository. Frankly, I am not motivated to get one after reading the excerpt with his condescending tone on China and the Chinese in general and the then Chinese leadership in particular. He mentioned that his daughters shed tears on the last day at GH, on the carpets which would soon belong to C H Tung. Which he missed is that Mr Tung never stayed there. To be fair to Patten, he can write and he writes well, but as Grenville Cross had pointed out, “He is toxic.”

Patten was invited, in his last two years as Governor, by RTHK to launch a new series of “Letters to Hong Kong” through which he broadcast his thoughts on a regular basis about every four weeks on a range of subjects. He thus did 28 letters in all, broadcast from 2 April 1995 to 29 June 1997. The contents were collated by the Information Services Department with a foreword from the author. The last paragraph of the foreword reads, “Appropriately enough, my last letter is broadcast the day before my governorship ends. I hope people see it not just as a fond farewell – which it is – but as a parting tribute which celebrates the values and successes of a remarkable city and community, which I have grown to love.”  I have the pleasure of receiving a copy of the booklet, which runs to 146 pages and which I had read once from cover to cover. I found it in my storage two years ago, and have kept it in my study since, as one of those memorabilia and reference material.

In May 2022, I had the privilege of introducing Dr Philip Chen or Chen Nan Lok at our Rotary International District Conference. During my little speech, I made a reference that we were both authors, but quickly added the following postscript.  I said, “Now, friends, just as there are rich dads and poor dads, there are rich authors and poor authors. Rich authors are people with names such as Obama, Clinton and Kissinger, who have publishers lining at their doors with generous offers, begging them to let them publish their books. Poor authors, on the other hand, are those whom publishers would not even look at their scripts, nor publish their works unless they pay the publisher upfront a handsome fee and allow the publisher to alter and redact their scripts. I am a typical poor author and I ended up being my own publisher. On the other hand, Philip is in the rich author category.” I won’t say whether Patten is a rich or poor author, but he certainly has authored quite a few books which had found their way into my collection, including his First Confession (2017) which I read while I was holidaying in France. He took a few months off after he left Hong Kong and wrote East and West which was published in 1998 and he came to Hong Kong and HKU specifically in 2005 to market his Not Quite the Diplomat. He certainly had a following and his long tenure as Chancellor of the University of Oxford (since 2003) helps to promote his legacy. In his full disclosure with James O’Brien, he had been described by The Observer as “the best Tory Prime Minister we never had.”

Back to Mei Foo where life is. We seek to stay as good and healthy as possible, and we continue to indulge in good food and wine and in the company of good friends. I hope to talk to you again soon.

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