A few years ago I was researching the East Anglian witch-hunt when people kept disappearing – people like a couple from Maldon in Essex, persistent puritan absentees from church. In 1638 officials of the archdeacon of Colchester gave up chasing them, scribbling against their names: ‘Gone to New England.’ In hundreds of English communities divided by politics and religion, individuals either drifted into the Civil War or they left.
At midnight on June 30th, 1997 Hong Kong reverted from British control back to China. Looking back, did Britain fail the people of Hong Kong?
To answer this question it is important to understand the relative balance of power between China and the United Kingdom. During the 19th century Britain was in its heyday. The Royal Navy could project her power to any seaport in the world. Britain was able to coerce China into signing the treaties that acquired Hong Kong and leased the New Territories for 99 years. By the late 1970s, those days were long gone. Delicate negotiation, rather than gunboat diplomacy, was Britain’s best hope of keeping control of Hong Kong.
Much has been made of Prime Minister Thatcher’s visit to Hong Kong in September 1982. Images of her tripping on the steps at the Great Hall of the People and reports of Deng Xiaoping’s irritation at her proposal of keeping a British presence in Hong Kong, have been well documented and criticised. However before Margaret Thatcher even arrived in Beijing, the British had encountered Deng’s ire over Hong Kong. Deng had made clear his intention to re-acquire Hong Kong and the New Territories to Hong Kong Governor Sir Murray Maclehose in 1979.
Life is short, but not that short. To put your lifespan into historical perspective - and for an intellectual ice-bucket challenge - try this quick calculation. You may find the results startling.
Start with the year you were born, then simply subtract your age. The result is your 'mirror year'. For example, if you’ve recently turned 25 then subtract that number from the year 1989 to get a mirror year of 1964.
Why do that? Well, the calculation gives an intriguing way of looking at your life thus far. No doubt 1964 seems an unfathomably long time ago to a 25-year-old but in fact that person's date of birth is equidistant between then and now. In other words, if you're 25 then the start of your life is as close to the release of the Beatles LP A Hard Day’s Night as it is to Beyonce's latest single. And if, like so many of us, you’re the wrong side of 25, your mirror year recedes even further into the past – to a sometimes staggering degree.
Here are a few pictures of the new History Today office, into which we moved this past weekend. The full address is:
History Today Ltd
9 Staple Inn
London WC1V 7QH