A long view from Kowloon

Asia, Hong Kong, SAR China

A long view from Kowloon

No Comments 28 November 2010

In this post, the Monkey explores Hong Kong’s history from a rooftop in Kowloon and the waterfront of the city’s magnificent harbor. Great views and a bit of learning guaranteed…

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Recommended reading

East and West: The Last Governor of Hong Kong on Power, Freedom and the Future
Chris Patten (London: Macmillan, 1998)
Written shortly after he oversaw the end of British rule in Hong Kong, Patten’s book offers his personal insights on his time as governor, and also his views on such themes as “Asian values”, freedom and markets, and the rise of China.

Fragrant Harbour
John Lanchester (London: Faber and Faber, 2002)
A lovely novel full of local details and color, with a set of interlocking narratives that span nearly a century of Hong Kong history.

Hong Kong
Jan Morris (London: Penguin, 1988 and 1997)
Morris provides a vivid portrait of the city and its people, history, and culture.  A new concluding chapter was added just in time for the handover.

Hong Kong: In the Mouth of the Dragon
Pierre Cayrol (Rutland, VT: Tuttle, 1998)
As a French journalist based in Hong Kong, Cayrol is critical of the British and Chinese in his short book about the handover of Hong Kong. He divides the book into sections on the shameful and respectable faces of Hong Kong, as well as a short exploration of the immediate aftermath of the handover.

The Honourable Schoolboy
John le Carré (London: Pan, 1977)
Part two of a trilogy of excellent spy novels, the action here is primarily set in 1970s Hong Kong, when just about anything goes.

Kowloon Tong
Paul Theroux (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1997)
An enjoyable tale of the handover period, detailing a very British businessman’s attempts to maintain his Hong Kong roots in the face of what he calls the “Chinese take-away”.

The Last Governor: Chris Patten & the Handover of Hong Kong
Jonathan Dimbleby (Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 1997)
Journalist Dimbleby enjoyed special access to Governor Chris Patten as he struggled to push through democratic reforms in Hong Kong before the territory’s handover to China in 1997. The book offers ample evidence that Patten’s reforms were undercut not only by Beijing but also by business interests and other pro-Beijing forces in Hong Kong and London.

A Modern History of Hong Kong
Steve Tsang (Hong Kong: University of Hong Kong Press, 2004)
An authoritative yet accessible account of Hong Kong’s history, from its roots in tiny fishing villages through its colonization, growth into a metropolis, and handover from Britain to China.

The Monkey King
Timothy Mo (New York: William Morrow and Co, 1978)
An unconventional family drama emerges from the marriage of Wallace Nolasco to the daughter of a wealthy and miserly Hong Kong merchant. Full of cultural insights and tasty conflicts.

Myself a Mandarin: Memoirs of a Special Magistrate
Austin Coates (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968)
This amusing memoir captures a unique perspective on colonialism: that of a transplanted civil servant tasked with adjudicating the disputes of his subjects, who have a very different concept of law. Many insights into Hong Kong’s traditional ways are to be gained.

North Wind: What the Hong Kong Media Doesn’t Want You to Know
Nury Vittachi (Hong Kong: Chameleon Press, 2001)
As a humorist and veteran of Hong Kong’s media scene, Vittachi offers an insider’s perspective on the shifts in Hong Kong’s free-wheeling press as the handover to China sets in. Revealing and punctuated with humor, a worthwhile read for anyone interested in the subtleties of journalistic self-censorship.

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