A Borrowed Place

A History of Hong Kong

Frank Welsh

In 1842, a “barren island” was ceded by a reluctant China to an unenthusiastic Britain. Yet from the outset the new colony prospered, its early growth owing much to the energy of opium traders, who soon diversified in more respectable directions. In 1859 the Kowloon Peninsula was sold to the British Consul in Canton, and in 1898 a further area of the mainland, the New Territories, was leased to Britain for 99 years. Since World War II, Hong Kong’s extraordinary economic success has made it one of the world’s leading commercial centres. Yet the colony has never quite shaken off the raffishness of its early days, and it continues to be a source of embarrassment to British governments.

Now, as Hong Kong’s return to China in 1997 approaches, its future is the focus of worldwide attention and speculation. This account evokes Hong Kong and the characters of those who shaped it, from the gusto of the colony’s buccaneering, opium-smuggling beginnings to its spectacular post-war growth.

First published by HarperCollins (UK) in 1993.


‘Magnificent, compendious and much-needed.’
Jonathan Mirsky, The Times

The Economist

‘Richly detailed, informative and entertaining.’
Asia Week

‘Narrative history in the best sense.’
Richard Tames, Times Educational Supplement

‘This authoritative history of Hong Kong is an excellent primer for the region.’
The Economist

‘Some of the best works on Hong Kong are histories or travel writing rather than pure fiction. Probably the best of the histories is Frank Welsh’s A Borrowed Place.’
World Travel Guide

‘An impressive piece of work – perhaps the best concise up-to-date history of Hong Kong we have.’
Frederick Wakeman, Director of the Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley

‘Refreshing and full of tiny surprises. Welsh has dug up intimate material on a vast range of characters who in most books remain only talking heads.’
Sterling Seagrave, author of Dragon Lady and The Soong Dynasty.

‘A pleasure to read. It has both style and substance.’
Arthur Waldron, author of The Great Wall of China

‘Colourful, absorbing, and authentic history.’
Morris Rossabi, author of Kubilai Khan: His Life And Times

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