The British Empire Library

Paper Tigress: A Life In The Hong Kong Government

by Rachel Cartland

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Michael Waters, MBE (Western Pacific 1972-76, Hong Kong 1976-97 Police and Administration)
This is a fascinating book and quite different. It is not a political or security memoir or an account of the difficult work and the negotiations leading up to the transfer of sovereignty, of which we have heard much in recent times. It is a personal account, told with humour and a degree of light heartedness, of many years work in the Hong Kong Government/Hong Kong SARG both before and after 1997.

Rachel Cartland served in a variety of posts during her long and varied career in Hong Kong and much of her service was spent in Government Departments not perhaps regarded as the 'political mainstream'. She spent a long time in Social Welfare and Culture Recreation and Sport. She was responsible for broadcasting policy during a time of considerable change and her observations on this provide an important historical record. Her views on the issues and problems which arose in these fields and the difficulties she faced in a territory which was overwhelmingly Chinese in a cultural sense, make fascinating reading. Her account of the awful effects of the SARS epidemic of 2003, when 299 people died in Hong Kong, is particularly interesting. Her light hearted accounts of some of the peccadilloes of the Hong Kong colonial regime will be instantly recognisable to those who served there at the time. In her final chapter entitled 'Afterlife', Rachel does offer some political analysis and an assessment and comparison of public attitudes towards the Government both before and after 1997.

I was interested in her definition of 'breath holding events': the corruption amnesty in 1977, the effect of the 1989 Tiananmen Square 'massacre' and the actual handover in '97. Having lived through the same three events I would endorse her choices of these as fundamental to the development of political consciousness in Hong Kong.

I knew Rachel and particularly her husband Mike, who was Chairman of the HK HMOCS Association. Rachel was not herself a member of HMOCS, having availed herself of the opportunity to serve on contract terms after her marriage (a hangover from the days when lady officers had to resign from the permanent service on marriage) and she therefore missed out on the Compensation Schemes.

This book is an excellent read which tells a personal story of a working life in the service of Hong Kong.

British Empire Book
Rachel Cartland
Blacksmith Books
978 988 19003 8 8


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