The slim volume, part of the Columbia Global Reports imprint, offers a concise overview of the city’s troubled past, tracing the current unrest back to a flawed political makeup with its roots in British rule ... As far as analyses go, this is hardly novel. Vigil reflects the mainstream view on China that has emerged out of American academia, a discourse that Wasserstrom helped shape with books like China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know... He understands Xi Jinping as the driving force behind an imperialist China that will continue to hound fringe territories like Hong Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang, and Tibet. With Xi’s rule unchallenged, the prospect of meaningful autonomy in Hong Kong grows dimmer by the day. Wasserstrom sees protesters as trapped by geopolitical forces beyond their control, awaiting a looming crackdown; the best they can do is delay the inevitable ... Of course, simply dreaming of liberation will not avert the depressing fate suggested in Vigil. But the slogan is powerful because it rebukes fatalism—it gives permission to Hongkongers to imagine a future in which they are free. Already people are bonding over this shared aspiration, which opens up daily life to opportunities for caring and solidarity.
Mr. Wasserstrom, a professor of history at the University of California, Irvine, offers a vivid narrative of Hong Kong 'on the brink.' He is perhaps strongest when he puts the protests into historical context. Beyond making the standard comparisons to Tibet and the struggles of the Uighurs in Xinjiang, he hears in Hong Kong’s current conflict echoes of events in China over the past century ... For all its merits, Vigil feels premature. Mr. Wasserstrom says that he finished his text in early October 2019. It is true that by then the government had promised to withdraw the extradition bill, which it did in late October, but even by the author’s own observation the protest campaign seemed nowhere near to expiring. Indeed, it continues to rage. What is more, darker impulses have emerged in the past few months.
In this well-organized, strikingly relevant work, Wasserstrom...argues that the designation of Hong Kong by China and Britain in the handover of 1997 as a Special Administrative Region enjoying 'a high degree of autonomy' is being threatened ... The author provides a penetrating review of the situation through on-the-ground reporting and interviews with protest leaders like Joshua Wong and Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong ... A passionate, important study of the current affairs of a volatile region.