Among the Braves

Hope, Struggle, and Exile in the Battle for Hong Kong and the Future of Global Democracy


By Shibani Mahtani

By Timothy McLaughlin

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Through the eyes of two frontline journalists comes a gripping narrative history of the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement centered around a cast of four core activists, culminating in the 2019 mass protests and Beijing's brutal crackdown. 

Hong Kong was an experiment in governance. Handed back to China in 1997 after 156 years of British rule, it was meant to be a carve-out between hostile systems: a bridge between communism and capitalism, authoritarianism and liberal democracy. “One country, two systems” kept its media free, its courts independent and its protests boisterous, designed also to convince Taiwan of a peaceful solution to Beijing’s desire for reunification.

Yet this formulation excluded Hong Kong’s own people, their future negotiated by political titans in faraway capitals. In 2019, an ill-conceived law spear-headed by a sycophantic leader pushed millions to take to the streets in one of the most enduring protest movements the world has ever seen. Xi Jinping responded with a draconian national security law that sought not only to end the demonstrations but quash the “problem” of Hong Kongers’ identity and desire for freedom.

Reverend Chu, who believed Hong Kong had to carry the spirit of students at Tiananmen Square, saw his silver-haired comrades who birthed the city’s modern pro-democracy movement handcuffed and taken from their homes. Tommy, an art student radicalized into throwing Molotov cocktails, watched “braves” like him brutalized by police before his own arrest prompted him to flee. Finn epitomized the decentralized nature of the movement and its internet-fueled victories, but online anonymity couldn’t stop his life from unravelling. Gwyneth could predict her eventual fate when she chose to give up her career as a journalist to stand for election as an opposition candidate, and did it anyway.

In Among the Braves, Shibani Mahtani and Timothy McLaughlin tell the story of Hong Kong’s past, and what the sacrifices of its people mean for global democracy’s shaky foundation.

  • "All of the fault lines shaping our world converged in the inspiring rise and tragic demise of Hong Kong’s protest movement--democracy and authoritarianism, capitalism and technology, nationalism and the individual yearning for liberty and community. In Among the Braves, Shibani Mahtani and Timothy McLaughlin tell a gripping, propulsive story that puts us inside the harrowing experience of people on the front lines of history, while also showing us the broader context of an increasingly assertive China determined to stamp out dissent. This is the very best kind of journalism--smart, painstaking, empathetic, and beautifully rendered.”
    Ben Rhodes, author of After The Fall and The World As It Is
  • “Seamlessly weaving history with the personal stories of brave Hong Kongers fighting to preserve the spirit of their city, Mahtani and McLaughlin deliver a poignant must-read, as they dissect exactly how democracy and freedom are lost.”
    Kim Ghattas, author of Black Wave and The Secretary
  • Among the Braves is a piercing revelation….Mahtani and McLaughlin paint a vivid portrait of Hong Kong’s vibrant streets, once pulsating with hope and promise, now shrouded by the shadows of oppression. They bring us into the lives of remarkable individuals, unsung heroes—whose defiance against insurmountable odds transformed them into symbols of resistance and resilience….This is a must-read for anyone who cherishes liberty.”
    Maria Ressa, co-founder, Rappler and co-recipient of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize
  • "Among the Braves entwines the activists' stories with a chronicle of Hong Kong's decades-old protest movement, stretching from the Tianenmen Square massacre in 1989, through the Umbrella protests of 2014, to the unrest in 2019. It lays bare the incompetence of politicians in dealing with each unfolding crisis...The result is a book that is both a page-turner and a succinct history."
    The Economist
  • “A vivid and engrossing account of the city’s protest movement and its aftermath.”
    The Wall Street Journal
  • "As I read, I got so swept up in the extremely well-told life stories in the book...I came away with a renewed appreciation for the deeply tragic fate of Hong Kong."
    Jeffrey Wasserstrom, author of Vigil: Hong Kong on the Brink
  • "Mahtani and McLaughlin have written a heartfelt chronicle of Hong Kong’s 2019-2020 democracy movement, centered on the courage, creativity, and sacrifice of its ‘braves’–the movement’s leading foot soldiers. This important book not only bears witness to those who put everything on the line to keep the flame of freedom and justice alive in Hong Kong, but implicitly pays tribute to the millions doing similarly around the world to defend their democratic rights and dignity in the face of autocratic assault. A timely and important read."
    Amb. Derek Mitchell, president, National Democratic Institute
  • "Among the Braves charts the struggles of a younger generation of Hong Kongers in the glare of media spotlights as well as in the trenches of their daily lives. They exhibit both virtues and flaws; they rise and they fall. Continually, though, they walk off the page, grab you by the lapels, and make you look."
    Perry Link, coauthor of I Have No Enemies: The Life and Legacy of Liu Xiaobo
  • “A significant arrival…. What gives force to Among the Braves is the combination of first-hand, on-the-ground knowledge and historical sweep…. It’s a poignant book…. The powers that control Hong Kong can’t be considered victors until their history of the pro-democracy movement has been accepted. Books like Among the Braves only move that prospect further away.”
    Matthew Brooker, Bloomberg Opinion
  • “A narrative history with deep ambition…. the great strength of Among the Braves is Mahtani and McLaughlin’s ability to capture the sweep of this broad narrative through the voices of a select few individuals…. Among the Braves shine[s] brightest—and [is] at [its] most gut-wrenching—in depicting Hong Kong protestors as ordinary people thrust into extraordinary, tragic circumstances.”
    The Los Angeles Review of Books
  • “[An] excellent book….As this book correctly argues, the speed of events, the fragility of institutions and the involvement of ‘willing collaborators eager to brutally enforce the demands of authoritarians’ hold lessons for the global confrontation between democracy and autocracy seen in places such as Ukraine and Taiwan. This is a gripping and well-paced narrative about people who sacrificed much for the cause of democracy.”
    The Spectator
  • “[A] powerful and moving debut…. Mahtani and McLaughlin weave an exhilarating narrative, full of fear and hope, frenetic improvisation, and terrifying street violence. The result is a gripping account of one of the great political tragedies of our time.”
    Publishers Weekly (starred)
  • "In this captivating and illuminating examination of activism in Hong Kong, journalists
    Mahtani and McLaughlin balance historical context with up-to-the-minute reporting to convey the
    current climate in Hong Kong and its global implications....Written with urgency, Among the Braves chronicles the courage and dedication of activists in the face of harsh responses from the pro-Beijing government. As many of the main subjects of the book are currently imprisoned or in exile, Mahtani and McLaughlin’s report is an essential look at threats to modern democracy."
    Booklist (starred)
  • "Compelling and poignant insider tales of China’s devastatingly complete anti-democracy actions."
    Kirkus Reviews
  • One of InsideHook's 10 Books You Should Be Reading
  • “A multi-dimensional yet intimate portrait of the 2019 protests.”
    Asian Affairs journal
  • "Timothy McLaughlin and Shibani Mahtani...[weave] a poignant tale that hit close to home."
    The Wire China
  • "A riveting story....[T]he grit of people like the jailed journalist Gwyneth Ho is inspiring when she said that 'we are not at the very bottom of hell yet… there’s still a long way to go.' Among the Braves thus leaves the reader with a sense of hope and optimism that justice will eventually prevail, especially for those that have not given up the dream of democracy in Hong Kong—the so-called 'braves' among us."
    Cha Journal
  • "This is an amazing book and an incredible reminder of why we need independent journalism and individual journalists willing to risk their lives to tell the rest of us what is happening in dangerous situations around the world."

On Sale
Nov 7, 2023
Page Count
336 pages
Hachette Books

Shibani Mahtani

About the Author

Shibani Mahtani is an international investigative correspondent for the Washington Post. She was previously the Post's Hong Kong and Southeast Asia bureau chief and a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal based in Singapore, Yangon, and Chicago. Her Hong Kong coverage was honored with prizes including a Human Rights Press Award for an investigation into police misconduct. She is a graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Timothy McLaughlin is a prize-winning contributing writer for The Atlantic. Previously he worked for Reuters news agency. His work has also appeared in publications including WIRED, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and Prospect. He has won multiple awards for his Hong Kong coverage, including two Best in Business Awards from the Society for Advancing Business Editing, and is a two-time finalist for The Livingston Award for International Reporting. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. Mahtani and McLaughlin live in Singapore with their adopted Hong Kong village dog, Bean.

Learn more about this author