The evolution of the British empire over several centuries was one of ‘divide and rule’. The early expansion of the 15th–18th centuries was a simple exercise in trade exploitation under the thin veil of financially backed ‘exploration’. However, that exploration often confronted two realities: extraordinary economic opportunity alongside non-compliant populations. For the most part, the heavy-handed approach to occupation worked well if the population had an inferior military capacity and the geography was favourable. By the end of the 18th Century, however, new trade lands were less accessible to invasion. Of them, China and Russia were two continents that were never going to roll over. Though Russia and China represented no real military challenge to the British, they were both centres of intellectual and technological expansion during the 17th century. Consequently, when it came to negotiating with China, and Hong Kong in particular, a different approach was required, a pragmatic one based on trade ‘relationship’ rather than full colonisation.
Tsang’s, ‘A Modern History of China’, is a straightforward read and highlights the modernising of international trade relations. However, it also shows how reciprocal relationships shape both sides of the negotiating table even though one party may have the upper hand concerning power. This isn’t to say it was simple, however. The Colonial Secretary and English Social Reformer, Joseph Chamberlain, saw early on that the old British dynamics were attempting to undermine fair representation of the minority by creating a thinly disguised oligarchy. Tsang makes clear that there was a pragmatic and organic development to Hong Kong society. When left to their own devices, people will generally find a workable balance, especially if there is a benign overlord in the background.
There is a haphazardness to Hong Kong’s development that reveals a fragility. In truth, the rear-view mirror shows the past in a better light than it probably was. People being people, the outcomes of the two Anglo-Chinese wars could have become full civil war and an international disaster, but they did not. Also, the untended secondary consequences of British settlement on the Hong Kong Peninsular seeded the beginnings of the Chinese revolution. Scholars from inland China were impressed with how orderliness, legal consistency (in a comparative sense) and the rule of legitimate law could so transform urban populations.
What we learn from history is that people have not changed much. We all want to survive, prevail, enjoy what we have, live in peace, have what’s required to raise a family and so on. However, we are also greedy, unpredictable, culturally bound, fearful of the alien in our midst, and much more reactive than we are reflective. Moreover, despite all that, we know we need each other. What history does reveal, is that we can learn. Our nature may be entirely consistent, but our capacity to deal with it is a choice. Tsang’s book is that story. There is developed thinking in British political leadership. It is not entirely consistent, but it is indeed there. Tsang’s record of the relationship between China and Britain in World War II highlighted the outcomes of Britain’s governance of Hong Kong as representation. Even though Japan’s military might killed of any sense of the ‘white man’s power’, it had no intention of treating China or any other East Asian country as equals.
As a consequence, China’s alliance with Britain was firm enough to push back on the Japanese invasion of 1941 and continued to do so until the emancipation in 1945. Japan misread the political times – empire was no longer politically viable. Though the messy and unpredictable relationship continued after the war, the Hong Kong lease arrangement with China continued to work effectively for both parties: political leadership centred on the relationship, representation and trade were working, at least by global standards.
The most surprising outcome of the Hong Kong story has been the events since 1997. I visited in 1990, and there was a palpable fear among the population about what was coming their way as the lease concluded in 1997. However, their greatest fears did not come to pass. Just as the Chinese revolution had its genesis in the success of Hong Kong, China as a whole went through an unexpected shift economically and politically, much to the surprise of the world. Consequently, when 1997 came around, and capitalist Hong Kong returned to Chinese jurisdiction, their policy was straight out of the British playbook: “Leave it be, so far as it serves the needs of the PRC.”
There is an intuitive and messy fluidity in all good leaders, whether they be Christian, secular business or national politics. The art of reading the people, the circumstances, the conflicts, outcomes and threats, and then stitching them together in such a way that movement is possible, is never pure. Without being trite, there is listening to God, too. However, that can never be enough in itself. The Oligarchies that Chamberlain put an end to are all too often found in our church communities that claim to hear from God without being tested.
In Acts 15 the Jerusalem Council addressed similar conflicts as the alien gentiles flooded the Jewish Christian church. For the church leaders of the time, it was little more than an extension of the earlier issues the Jews had with the occupying Romans, with whom the Sadducean sect negotiated when no one else would.
Good Leadership is ongoing negotiation and communication, especially in times of transition. Moreover, those negotiations are as crucial in peacetime as they are under the threat of open war.
 LaHaye, Laura. “Mercantilism.” Concise Encyclopedia of Economics 2nd Ed, (2007): http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc1/Mercantilism.html
 Tsang, Steve. A Modern History of Hong Kong. New York: I.B.Tauris : Kindle Edition, 2004. 4
 Ibid, 20
 Ibid, 23
 Ibid, 27-28
 Ibid, 62
 Ibid, 75
 Ibid, 125-12
 The contingency model of leadership effectiveness is a model of leadership effectiveness that focuses on both person variables and situational variables. The right leaders at the right time in the right place determines the outcomes. See Sternberg, Robert J. “The Person Versus the Situation in Leadership.” The Leadership Quarterly Vol. 13, no. 3 301-232.
 Tsang, Steve. A Modern History of Hong Kong. 236