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Feeling the Stones

Reminiscences by David Akers-Jones

David Akers-Jones

Publication Year: 2004

This is a book for everyone with an interest in the recent history of Hong Kong and in an exceptional man who played a major part in that history as he ploughed a distinctive and individual, and sometimes controversial, path from District Officer to Acting Governor to Hong Kong Affairs Advisor.

Published by: Hong Kong University Press, HKU

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Allowing vigour, determination and the urge to better one's lot to take a productive course is a key attribute of good government. "Ruling the country is like cooking a small fish" is the wording of a fine piece of calligraphy with which this book opens. It is a good choice for the story of a man who knew in his bones just what that meant and who understood ...

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pp. xi-xiii

It is often said that Hong Kong suffers from a border mentality and prefers to think of the present boundary between Hong Kong and the mainland as a protective barrier. My wife and I crossed the border, as it was called then, into China many times: first in 1973 when the violence of the Cultural Revolution had abated but the country was still in the grip ...

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pp. 1-8

I had grown up in a quiet country village in Sussex and attended the local church primary school. As the clouds of war gathered, my father lost his lifetime employment at the local brickworks, the fires in the kilns were put out and he spent the war years, until retirement, in the Civil Defence organisation. My mother, who trained the church choir, ran the ...

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1. Arrival

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pp. 9-12

The founding of the People's Republic in 1949 and the changes in China's political and economic landscape had a profound effect on Hong Kong. Although it was the last left of the nineteenth-century Treaty Ports, it was no longer an entry port to China. China was virtually closed to Hong Kong and to the outside world. The population had swollen in the ...

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2. The New Territory

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pp. 13-18

When this news came we were staying in a lonely stone hut, one of a number of scattered holiday homes for missionaries high on Hong Kong's largest island, Lantau. A friend, flying in a Tiger Moth biplane, had spotted us and thrown down his exciting news. We read the scribbled note as the yellow wings grew small in the sky and looked around the wide horizon, ...

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3. Tsuen Wan and the Islands, 1959-1961

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pp. 19-34

Tsuen Wan was over the hills and along the coast west of Kowloon. White-walled villages were hidden in valleys; huts and factories straggled up the hillsides; families lived on tiny sampans at anchor in the bay, and vegetables were grown anywhere not immediately wanted for living and working. From 1959 we lived in Tsuen Wan for just under a year, while the ...

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4. Yuen Long, 1962-1967

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pp. 35-50

Hong Kong was always short of water, but there was plenty to be had north of the border in the rivers which stretched for hundreds of miles inland from the Pearl River estuary. In 1957 the Chinese government offered to build a reservoir near the border to supply Hong Kong with water for which Hong Kong would pay what it charged the Hong Kong ...

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5. Seeds of Reform

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pp. 51-60

... to go to Oxford to make a special study of local government under the supervision of Professor Bryan Keith-Lucas, an authority on comparative local government who had been greatly involved in advising on constitutions for newly independent territories. We found that the professor had recently moved from Oxford to the new University of Kent ...

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6. The Cultural Revolution

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pp. 61-66

... riots of the Cultural Revolution spread to Hong Kong. There were marches to Government House, vehement denunciations of the British and attempts to force the government to capitulate. Mobs surged out of crowded resettlement estates followed by tear gas volleys and baton charges, and rioting surged back and forth along the streets. There were savage attacks ...

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7. Principal Assistant Colonial Secretary (Lands)

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pp. 67-74

Government was lean, and as Principal Assistant Colonial Secretary I was responsible, together with three assistants, for Land Policy, Public Works, Rent Control, Housing and Rating. Property and construction account for nearly half of the economy, the stock exchange index is influenced by it, banks are heavily dependent on it, and it is a ...

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8. A Visit to China in 1973: FIFA

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pp. 75-86

We shared this curiosity to learn more, in a very small way, and of course much later, with those impulses which led Mildred Cable and Francesca French across the Gobi Desert, and Isabella Bird, the widow of a country parson, to travel alone in 1894 on a five-plank wu ban through the 'Yangtze Valley and Beyond'. In 1973 there occurred an unusual and ...

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9. China and FIFA: The End of Waiting

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pp. 87-90

In June 1974 the Congress was held in the fairgrounds of Frankfurt, a vast complex of buildings where Frankfurt has been staging fairs for hundreds of years. There were about four hundred delegates of whom 122 were voting members. There was little excitement until the motion proposing the admission of China was introduced; then delegate after ...

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10. Back to the Land

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pp. 91-96

Territories more accessible, more governable, roads had to be pushed out along the coast to the west and, most important, to the north over a pass in the hills to Tai Po, which in April 1899 had resisted the occupation of ancestral lands by the invading British troops taking over their new possession. Reports describe a force of a thousand armed men entrenched ...

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11. Breaking Down the Fences

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pp. 97-104

It passed under the rusting iron girders of a Bailey bridge, so called after its inventor, designed to be thrown quickly across rivers for advancing armies, but now over which barrows of vegetables were daily wheeled and pigs and cattle transferred on their journey from the distant interior of China to the markets of Hong Kong. ...

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12. The Expiring Lease

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pp. 105-112

Behind them, steep, treeless hillsides strewn with huge granite boulders reached up to the skyline ridge of the island. A trace, following a track along the foreshore, was laid out for the Queen's Road whose winding route, now far from the waters of the harbour, remains even today a crowded principal transport artery. ...

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13. 'Hong Kong People Ruling Hong Kong'

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pp. 113-120

Work began simultaneously at six small towns and almost overnight the inhabitants of these peaceful sites found themselves living next to a great construction effort. Each was a world of trenches, cranes, diggers, steel rods, hammering pile drivers, trucks and concrete, and swarming workers. Fields were buried beneath a deep layer of orange dirt from the ...

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14. Behind the Headlines

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pp. 121-126

to the Legislative Council had us shifting wearily in our seats for between three and four hours as he justified with labyrinthine analysis the short-term and long-term aspects of government finances and prospects for the economy. But Sir Philip was far from being a dull man; alongside his keen intellect, acid tongue, impatience with ineptitude and firm control of our ...

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15. Xiamen

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pp. 127-132

When travel to China became almost commonplace in the years following 1978 and the opening of China, almost alone among senior government officials, my wife and I took the opportunity to travel there as often as we could. I include accounts of some of these visits in order to paint a picture of the changes taking place in China and to put events and ...

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16. The Beginning of Negotiations

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pp. 133-144

Sir Murray had arrived in 1972 when Hong Kong had not fully recovered from the direct challenge of the disturbances of the Cultural Revolution. Government House had been beset by rioting mobs waving the red book of Mao's thoughts and the Governor had been abused by demonstrators. Confidence had drained away, and though citizens voiced their support for the colonial government, there is no doubt that Hong ...

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17. Negotiations Concluded, 1983-1985

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pp. 145-150

Time was running out. In September 1984, if no agreement were reached, China's own twenty-point plan for Hong Kong, which had already been published, would be implemented. The twenty points were seductive but contained nothing on the detail of Hong Kong's legal system and governance, its economy and social system, and no guarantees that ...

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18. Signatures and Celebrations

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pp. 151-156

We were all caught up in the drama of those days of secrecy as the text and its annexes emerged section by section after the drafts had been passed round from Hong Kong to London and Beijing and had been finally amended and approved. The Governor, on his visits to London, was sometimes accompanied by non-official members of Executive Council, ...

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19. Chief Secretary

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pp. 157-164

We would have to leave Island House, which had been our home for twelve years. It had been home for the officer responsible for the government of the New Territories and its affairs since the beginning of the century and, because it was situated among the people he administered, had become an important symbol of government's concern for the separate ...

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20. A Fresh Chapter Begins

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pp. 165-172

Meetings of the Executive Council took place in the government secretariat in an unadorned room around a long marmalade-coloured teak wood table, with no distracting pictures on the walls, no concession to comfort. At 9.30 every Tuesday morning the Governor entered through his door at the end of the table as his clerk announced 'His Excellency the ...

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21. Light and Nuclear Power

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pp. 173-178

The brilliant shop signs of the crowded streets are symbols of a city that never seems to sleep. The two power companies, Hong Kong Electric and China Light and Power, which supply Hong Kong and the islands and mainland Kowloon and the New Territories respectively, each built new giant stations, models of their kind whose smokeless chimneys poke like giant ...

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22. Loss of Sir Edward Youde

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pp. 179-184

The Governor had been accompanying a trade mission and had completed a last day of talks with Zhou Nan and Li Hou at the Hong Kong and Macao office. He had died peacefully in his sleep, to be found in the early morning by his personal assistant, Richard Hoare. Lady Youde and Dame Lydia Dunn were visiting Xian and were flown back to Beijing. ...

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23. The Walled City

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pp. 185-188

So, too, were the surrounding hills, the spectacular rocky feature resembling a crouching lion, Lion Rock, and the land and villages surrounding the bays to the east and west of the peninsula. This farmland was dotted with tightly clustered grey-tiled roofs and whitewashed walls of Chinese villages and their accompanying and numerous temples. ...

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24. The Arrival of Sir David Wilson and Retirement

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pp. 189-196

Workers from Chinese restaurants in Europe return to their native villages in the New Territories. Workmen down tools, quiet descends on building sites, barges and boats are docked, ships sail away, and for once the sea is as empty as before an advancing typhoon. Hong Kong, once in a year, is quiet. This welcome interruption to the frenzy of normality follows close ...

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25. A New Home

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pp. 197-200

Most civil servants worked in the urban offices of the government and lived in apartment blocks scattered around the city, and moved into larger, more comfortable apartments as promotion came their way. We, on the other hand, had spent years living in the New Territories where there were houses with gardens for District Officers, ...

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26. A Change of Life: 1989

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pp. 201-204

Through the house, the sudden vista of the sea, the steep, mountainous islands beyond and distant Hong Kong brought a gasp of delight from visitors. The ground sloped steeply upward behind the house through dark woodland, home for snakes and spiders, with long trails of purple bougainvillea, gordonia with flowers like poached ...

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27. Political Development 1987-1990: Tiananmen and the Boat People

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pp. 205-210

Signature campaigns were held to obtain support for early direct elections. Anonymous opinion surveys also conveyed the same message. An independent Survey Office to advise on the response to a public consultation paper decided to take signature campaigns as one submission and individual signed letters as separate submissions. Mass signature ...

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28. Sir David Wilson

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pp. 211-216

Viewed from the outside, Tiananmen seemed to spell an end to all the progress that had been made in social and economic reform, an end to the opening of China to the outside world, and to mark a return to the hard-line policies of former years. Happily, this was not to be so. Deng Xiaoping's policies continued as before, even while the rest of the world ...

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29. Another Voice

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pp. 217-228

Curiosity is the principal emotion which the arrival of a new Governor arouses, and so we flocked to the City Hall to see and hear what the new man had to say. After his swearing-in by the Chief Justice, Christopher Patten spoke, flattering Hong Kong for its achievements, talking of the challenges in the years remaining before 1997 and noting what he termed ...

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30. The Years Between, 1992-1997

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pp. 229-234

The Jardine Group, however, was singled out for its rumoured support for Mr Patten and for earlier shifting its domicile out of Hong Kong. China objected to the participation of the group in the consortium to build the next container terminal. As a result, this huge undertaking was held up for many years until a rearrangement of consortium members took place ...

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31. Defamation and the 'Second Stove'

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pp. 235-238

Two days later, on 1 February, the first edition of a much-heralded new English-language daily, the Eastern Express, appeared with the banner headline, 'How Akers-Jones Obtained a Bargain Home'. There followed the photograph taken at the front door and an article on the front page, with more photos and 'story' on the inside pages, full of innuendo and ...

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32. Elections and the Second Stove Lights Up

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pp. 239-244

While sharing the same enthusiasm as Christopher Patten for accelerating the pace of democracy, the Democrats and their allies fell out with the Governor over the Court of Final Appeal. This, and not a court in Beijing, was to replace the British Privy Council as the final judge in litigation in Hong Kong. It was another and important pillar of the one ...

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33. Countdown

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pp. 245-252

The stand-off between the Governor and the Chief Executive designate, Tung Chee Hwa, continued in its absurdity. The offices of the future Chief Executive, insensitively selected by the government in the crowded heart of the business district, were insecure, demeaning and wholly unsuitable, and other accommodation had to be found. The civil ...

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34. Settling Down

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pp. 253-262

... I can say that the pledge to Hong Kong by Deng Xiaoping of 'no change for fifty years' looks more believable than when he first uttered it. Hong Kong's capitalist system is still alive. But its economy is suffering, not only from the problems faced by the rest of the world's economies, but from its own special problems, such as the hollowing out of industry and ...

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35. Weather Report

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pp. 263-270

Since these words were spoken, the speed of change has been nothing short of phenomenal. China, with over a billion people to govern, has changed gear, introducing fundamental changes to its economic structure, introducing four modernisations - in industry, science and technology, agriculture, and the military - and opening its doors to the world, calmly ...

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pp. 271-274

Travelling from Beijing, it had taken seven days for Macartney and his entourage to cover the distance to Jehol (modern Chengde), beyond the Great Wall, where the Emperor was relaxing for the summer. It took us all of five hours in a tourist coach. Macartney travelled in a horse-drawn carriage, lurching, bumping and grinding over the narrow, rocky ...


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pp. 275-277

E-ISBN-13: 9789882201316
Print-ISBN-13: 9789622096554

Page Count: 308
Publication Year: 2004

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Subject Headings

  • Akers-Jones, David.
  • Government executives -- China -- Hong Kong -- Biography.
  • Hong Kong (China) -- History -- 20th century.
  • Hong Kong (China) -- Officials and employees -- Biography.
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