"Vigil was published before the national security law was introduced, but Jeffrey Wasserstrom seems to have prophesied the impending disaster. His title refers both to the candlelight vigil held every June 4 for the victims of the 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square and to the act of watching over a dying patientthe patient, in this case, being Hong Kong....An excellent primer on what is happening in Hong Kong." Barbara Demick, The New York Review of Books
"It will take many years to write a full sociological and historical account of the 2019 protest movement. In the meantime, we can turn to historian Jeffrey Wasserstrom’s Vigil, a short but brilliant first draft of that study." Rana Mitter, Project Syndicate
"A strong, economical account of what the city has gone through and where it may be headed."Nat Brown, National Review
"Brief and efficiently readable....Mr. Wasserstrom offers a vivid narrative of Hong Kong 'on the brink.' He is perhaps strongest when he puts the protests in 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. He reminds us, for instance, that Shanghai, after falling in 1949 to Mao's revolutionary forces, 'was an example of a Golden Goose that the Communists killed no long after taking control of it.' For those who believe that Hong Kong's status today as China's premier financial hub will shield the city from Beijing's wrath, this is sobering." Adrian Ho, The Wall Street Journal
"Vigil is a great, snappy introduction to how Hong Kong got where it is today. Whereas many Sinologists focus on the exceptional qualities of Xi Jinping's China, Wasserstrom, a historian, looks at Hong Kong's troubles through a comparative lens. He reaches back into China's past, as well as looking around the world, to help the reader make sense of events in Hong Kong....A useful guide to the broader forces pulling Hong Kong apart." Ben Bland, author of Generation HK: Seeking Identity in China's Shadow
"In this slim volume, rich in the sort of anecdotes and personal observations that lend it the feel of a report from the ground, Wasserstrom brings us into the world of Hong Kong's activists while explaining the current and historical context underlying their cause. It is no easy feat to convey a sense for the diffuse nature of the movement, but he succeeds. And he describes the ways that distinctions are increasingly blurring between the territory and the mainland, a blurring he sees increasing on every trip he makes back to the territory." Christine Gross-Loh, Los Angeles Review of Books
"Many scholars shy away from writing about the movement in Hong Kong, as their careers depend on access to mainland China, whose government opposes the protests. Wasserstrom bravely but respectfully enters the fray, illuminating the human dimension of an evolving East-West drama in clear, direct, accessible prose." Washington Independent Review of Books
"A succinct, richly researched history of the mass pro-democracy protests that began engulfing Hong Kong nearly a year ago. It's also a meditation on the meaning of borders and a cogent reckoning with what happens as they begin to blur or disappear." Commonweal
"Vigil is an engaging work from a writer with an unwavering passion for Hong Kong, serving as a brisk and accessible introduction to the city's recent history."Tammy Lai-Ming Ho, Times Higher Education
“In this well-organized, strikingly relevant work, 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.” Kirkus Reviews, starred review
"What Wasserstrom and good rapid-response books provide is context: what led to this? How did we get here? And, for the percipient commentator, what happens next?....Whatever happens next, Vigil will stand as a key explanatory text.” – Paul French, Mekong Review
"Keeping up with Hong Kong's rapidly changing protests is a tough task, but the prolific China historian Jeffrey Wasserstrom does a fine job of keeping this short volume relevant. While the book doesn't include dramatic recent developments like the university sieges or the council elections, it provides a strong account of what's at stake, where Hong Kong's spirit originates, and what might happen next." Foreign Policy
"Jeff Wasserstrom's Vigil takes the reader off the streets of the 'city of protest,' Hong Kong, and puts the former colony's upheavals into the broad sweep of modern Chinese history. His short book acts as a subtle, creative and beguiling companion to the day-to-day reporting of the harsh street battles protesting Beijing's suffocation of the city's freedoms." Richard McGregor, author of The Party and Xi Jinping: The Backlash
“A remarkable, and remarkably succinct, analysis of the ongoing crisis in Hong Kong. This is essential reading for understanding China's foreign policy, the legacies of empire and above all the extraordinary politics, society and culture of contemporary Hong Kong.”Julia Lovell, Professor of modern China at Birkbeck, University of London and author of Maoism: A Global History
"Jeffrey Wasserstrom has long been a master of unearthing shared resonances in the human experience across ages and in different societies. With Vigil, he has not only produced a surefooted guide to the turmoil shaking Hong Kong, but a richly insightful look at how recent events there fit into the broader sweep of history." Howard W. French, author of Everything Under the Heavens: How the Past Helps Shape China's Push for Global Power
“This is an essential primer to understand the factors driving the most serious challenge to Beijing since the 1989 protest movement. Written clearly and concisely, it offers a handy background briefing to Hong Kong's political crisis.”Louisa Lim, author of The People's Republic of Amnesia and Tiananmen Revisited
“A concise yet pertinent analysis of why and how Hong Kong exploded into months of escalating protests in 2019. Wasserstrom combines the deep knowledge of a historian and the captivating voice of literary writing. The result is an account that weaves together objective historical parallels and subjective sentiments that have driven Hong Kong’s various waves of protest.”Victoria Tin-bor Hui, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Notre Dame
"As illuminating as it is beautiful." Yangyang Cheng, Particle physicist at Cornell University and Columnist at SupChina
A longtime observer of Hong Kong protest movements argues that the autonomy of the region is being eroded by Beijing authority—not gradually and probably irreparably.
In this well-organized, strikingly relevant work, Wasserstrom (History/Univ. of California, Irvine; Chinese Characters: Profiles of Fast-Changing Lives in a Fast-Changing Land, 2012, etc.) 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. While originally the Western assumption was that Hong Kong, as the region bringing much of the economic boom to China, would be too valuable to Beijing to disrupt by its repressive measures, the reality seems to be that Beijing's tentacles are pervasive and continue to tighten. Disappearances of protestors, forced confessions, the threat of extradition law, the installation of puppet legislators, the resistance to universal suffrage—these are just a few of the familiar "screws" that mainland officials are implementing. 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. Wasserstrom works through the history of the region as a British colonial hub of trade in the mid-1800s and its subsequent enormous economic growth, overtaking even Shanghai after World War II. "Shanghai, after falling in 1949," writes the author, "was an example of a Golden Goose that the Communists killed not long after taking control of it." While there have been many victories for the democratic movement since renewed protests this year—e.g., pushing back against a new "moral and national education plan," which smacked of censorship—the protest movement's other demands—directly electing the chief executive, the release of prisoners, investigation of police brutality, and immediate universal suffrage, among them—have not been met. Without civil disobedience and international pressure, Wasserstrom fears that Hong Kong will become a "captive colony of Beijing."
A passionate, important study of the current affairs of a volatile region.