[EXCLUSIVE] “Recollecting a moment in time: Reflections on Dung Kai-cheung’s 𝑇ℎ𝑒 𝐶𝑎𝑡𝑎𝑙𝑜𝑔” by Bonnie S. McDougall

The Catalog_Dung Kai CheungHong Kong has long been depicted as a trading gateway between China and the rest of the world, to the profit of all three parties. Dung Kai-cheung 董启章, one of Hong Kong’s most highly regarded novelists, reveals ways in which Hong Kong people subject their material and immaterial products to their personal experiences. In 99 sketches roughly 1,000 characters in length, he selects his human subjects from the local population. These sketches appeared in book form under an English title, The Catalog; upon re-publication in 2011 it was accompanied by the title Menghua lu 梦华录 [A record of dreams of splendour].

The Catalog defies classification: there are no central characters, no sequential narrative, and no identifiable authorial voice. Dung Kai-cheung explains his wish ‘to restore consumer goods to their original nature as “things”, and at the same time endow them with emotional and experiential significance …’ His themes include the use their consumers made of the hottest products of the time and the transformation of these objects into marks of distinctive individuality. The Catalog allows readers to glimpse how Hong Kong fosters an innovative, cosmopolitan and at the same time local literary culture.

Hong Kong literature; Hong Kong history; Mainland China; Cantonese; fiction; collecting; material goods



The weight of the expression “Chinese culture” is enormous: having been in existence for several thousand years and encompassing all forms of literary, visual and musical arts as well as infinite intellectual diversions, it has immense global significance. Formerly restricted to the millions who live in East Asia and the much lower number of people in the rest of the world who understood something of its languages and history, China’s modern literary culture is now more than ever before accessible to readers across the globe. Here, however, I discuss a writer from a small corner of China whose works have largely been overlooked in and beyond mainland China. This essay is accordingly divided into five parts: an introductory note on the author; a detailed analysis of one of his books in terms of its language, characters and things; catalogues and collections; a moment in history that has a long history; and Hong Kong as a literary incubator.

This essay does not present an outline of Hong Kong literature in general nor compare the author with other Hong Kong writers;[1] the two central topics are presented not as conclusive judgements on the author’s work as a whole nor do they claim to echo the author’s intentions: they are reflections on one book made by one reader. Since the author and the work under review are little known outside Hong Kong and Taiwan, however, this essay includes a detailed account of the author, the work itself, the significance of its title and the historical background against which its characters mostly manage to survive.




Dung Kai Cheung

Dung Kai-cheung

The place is Hong Kong: the writer was born there and still lives there. His name in his native Cantonese is Dung Kai-cheung, or Dong Qizhang in standard modern Chinese. Dung Kai-cheung was born in 1967. His parents had moved from China to the rural New Territories in Hong Kong and then to Kowloon: Dung Kai-cheung grew up in Mong Kok, one of the world’s most densely populated areas. He received his BA and MPhil in Comparative Literature at the University of Hong Kong. He has taught part-time in several Hong Kong universities but spends most of his time writing novels, short stories, literary criticism and reviews. Since the 1990s Dung Kai-cheung has published 18 works of fiction, and more are on the way. He is one of Hong Kong’s most admired and respected writers.[2]

AtlasDung Kai-cheung also has an audience, small but enthusiastic, beyond Hong Kong. His early works were mostly first published in Taipei and have won prizes there; since 2010, some of his fiction has been republished on the Chinese mainland (Wong, 2014: 504-7). Translations into English include the novels Ditu ji – yi ge xiangxiang de chengshi de kaoguxue [Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City][3] and Tiangong kaiwu: Xuxu Ruzhen [The History of the Adventures of Vivi and Vera].[4] To this can be added Cantonese Love Stories, a partial translation of a longer work, The Catalog.[5] Articles and shorter items in English by McDougall, Leo Ou-fan Lee, Carlos Rojas, David Der-wei Wang, and Michael Ingham have also helped spread his reputation beyond Hong Kong.[6] Most recently, five of Dung Kai-cheung’s works translated into English are featured in a survey of contemporary Hong Kong’s “distributed literatures and semiotic repertoires”.[7]




The work discussed here is The Catalog, written in 1998–1999 and first published in Hong Kong in 1999. Its original title was given in English only, in the American spelling, and the author was identified only as Kai.[8] On re-publication in Taipei in a set of four of Dung’s early novels (including Atlas) in 2011, under the collective title V cheng xilie [V city series], the author’s name is given in full and the English title on the front cover is accompanied by one in Chinese, Menghua lu [A record of dreams of splendour].

Dongjing menghua lu 東京夢華錄As the author explains in his preface, Dreams of Splendour is a well-known collection of essays about the Eastern Capital of the Northern Song dynasty (960­­–1127), Bianliang (modern Kaifeng), written by Meng Yuanlao in 1147. In ten chapters it gives a detailed account of the city, from its physical layout to its produce, festivals, and customs.[9] By choosing Meng’s title for the new edition, the author likened his own work to its detailed chapters on the ancient Song capital, including the dream-like nature of his contents. Here, to distinguish Dung’s work from Meng’s, the former will appear as The Catalog.

Like Atlas, The Catalog defies conventional classification: there are no central characters, no sequential narrative from chapter to chapter, and no identifiable authorial voice; on the other hand, its theme determines its unity and its author designates it as a novel. In contrast to Atlas, however, it deals with the everyday life of ordinary people in contemporary Hong Kong, sketched in 99 short chapters each only a page and a half long, or about a thousand Chinese characters; each chapter (or sketch) bears the name of a particular consumer product, service, event, habit or other cultural phenomenon. (For convenience, these items will be referred to below collectively as “consumer goods”, “goods and services” or simply “things”.) In this work Dung Kai-cheung transforms Hong Kong’s obsessions (which have been labelled fetishist) into strange and often quite fantastic narratives that serve his subjects’ unexpected ends.[10] The author’s predilection for playfulness blended with a serious undertone, as evident in his chapter titles for The Catalog and Vivi and Vera, is also a notable characteristic of many of these sketches.

In his postface to The Catalog’s re-publication, entitled “Guoshi de meixue” (An aesthetics of obsolescence), Dung Kai-cheung explains his wish “to restore consumer goods to their original nature as ‘things’, and at the same time endow them with emotional and experiential significance … [where] commodities that are inhuman, mass-produced and without individuality are transformed for personal use, becoming marks of distinctive life experiences. Therefore, when I wrote on each of these commodities, what I used had unusual, even fantastic associations… [It] involved a kind of ‘individual use of goods’ in public.” Dung Kai-cheung then lists his main themes: the hottest consumer goods of the time; the idiosyncratic use their consumers made of them; the transformation of these goods into marks of distinctive individuality; and the influence of the author’s personal life (he had just got married).[11]

Dung Kai-cheung also records his emotions on revisiting the sketches for re-publication. When he originally selected for The Catalog the electronic devices, foodstuffs, fashionable clothing, shoes and accessories he saw around him, he had chosen them more or less at random; now these consumer items appear to him as if they had emerged from archaeological investigations, and his postface expresses nostalgia for the past in the manner of the original Dreams of Splendour. After the passage of more than a decade, the author has also become more aware of what he calls “a touch of darkness” in the sketches, although he claims that the individual story lines are not deliberately weird but on the contrary are based on everyday existence: many of the stories come close to not having an ending; a few offer an opening to the future. Finally, addressing his Taiwan readers, Dung Kai-cheung assures them that his use of Cantonese in dialogue should not be a hindrance. As he notes, language is a site of multiple meanings, and the reader can decipher what is meant or referenced by relying on the sequence of events. (This assurance is not necessarily valid for readers whose native language is not Chinese.)

In Atlas, which is more formal both in its narrative voice and recorded speech, Dung Kai-cheung employed a mostly neutral, semi- (or pseudo-) academic language based on Mandarin. The language of The Catalog is quite dissimilar. To begin with, the scene is contemporary rather than historical Hong Kong, and the stories are about people and the things they consume, not events in history or geography. A personalised narrative voice in both cases is suppressed, but there are more conversations in The Catalog; they include such nuances as a passage in “Prada” where one person speaks in Cantonese but the reply is in Mandarin, suggesting that a social gap has arisen between the former classmates. There are also Cantonese expressions in the descriptive passages, although in other respects the narrative language differs from the dialogue (for example, there are more function words in the dialogue, such as pronouns and final particles). Children and the less educated, unsurprisingly, tend to speak in colloquial Cantonese; dialogue by young educated women and men (especially university students) tends to adopt Mandarin vocabulary and grammar pronounced in Cantonese. Sometimes passages of written description veer between both, being perhaps an accurate depiction of written style in Hong Kong in the late 1990s. The spoken language is occasionally vulgar (e.g. in “The Cowboy Hat”) but never obscene.

In its cast of characters, The Catalog is yet again unlike Atlas: its population is singularly homogeneous. In the great majority of the sketches, the central character is a young, educated, urban female: schoolgirls, teenagers, university students, office ladies; they often act on impulse with occasionally tragic results. The young men feature for the most part as the other half of a couple: they tend to be reactive, often baffled, sometimes violent. Most female-male relationships involve sexual encounters that are sometimes satisfactory, sometimes not.

Absences are significant: there is just one character of European descent, a Mormon, presumably from the US, who speaks with a heavy accent, and a single mainlander, a young man now settled in Hong Kong; there are no Filipina “helpers”, Indian tailors or other ethnic minorities. Government authorities are also absent: there are no politicians or bureaucrats, only a single social worker and few (mostly passive or neutral) police; there is no past, only the present. There is space for the socially marginalised as well as mothers and (less often) fathers typically in secondary roles, but the rich (with the exception of a bumptious young man with a taste for expensive watches) do not appear, nor do the farmers or others based in the New Territories countryside; a small number of central characters live in or visit the Outlying Islands. Only the bumptious young man drives a car, although bicycles and motorcycles make an appearance, but most of the characters commute on the MTR and live and work in an urban environment. The locations are sometimes but not always specified, and the intended readership would be able to identify them. (For example, local readers would likely be able to guess that the main characters in the unidentified setting of the story “Magpaper” were students at the University of Hong Kong.)

On the whole, the characters in The Catalog do not resemble the academic teachers and students or literary professionals amongst whom the author now spends most of his life, and the few intellectuals or university students in male roles are not particularly likeable. Instead, the author’s memories of his family, friends and neighbours would have prepared him for these later encounters in the streets, in shopping malls, in street food stalls and in tea restaurants. The depiction of young women is particularly impressive: there is no condescension in his accounts of their apparent eccentricities, only cool observation infused with sympathy.

Portuguese egg tartsPerhaps it is these characters’ highly circumscribed lives that leave them vulnerable. Their possessions become their obsessions, enabling them to protect themselves and to cope with undefined hostile forces from outside. Taking flight in Red Wing shoes is a survival strategy that launches the protagonist into an imagined non-existence; ballet shoes, Air Jordan and Birkenstocks similarly transform lives. A Burberry trench coat can free a young woman from emotional entanglements although a Burberry handbag has no such healing power. Portuguese egg tarts can evoke dreams of forgotten childhood; a fake Prada may be preferable to the genuine object in forming a new relationship. The young women are often strategically clever, whether through instinct or calculation: they find solutions for breaking free from their restraints by altering their behaviour, which may include apparently trivial acts such as changing their phone company. Not all of the stories have a happy ending: death is also a form of escape. For the most part, however, the stories are about private, personal and individual survival in an anonymous, unresponsive and possibly threatening society.

According to J. G. Ballard, “we live inside an enormous novel. It is now less and less necessary for the writer to invent the fictional content of his novel. The fiction is already there. The writer’s task is to invent the reality.” (Ballard, 1995) Dung Kai-cheung re-invents the reality of contemporary Hong Kong.




Dung Kai-cheung’s original title, The Catalog, poses questions: who or what is being catalogued, and to what ends? His subsequent ambivalence, changing the title but not excluding the original The Catalog, may be due to a kind of loyalty or (unlikely but possible) was suggested by his new publisher. In either case, one way to read The Catalog is to see it as a detailed study of Hong Kong’s consumer culture, whether or not these goods and services represent frozen moments in history (1998/99). Otherwise, now that most of its readers will have read the new edition and its commentary, they are directed to a new focus indicated by its new title, Dreams of Splendour. The dreamers are young women and men dreaming of adapting to new realities in 2011—not yet fading away but becoming ever more distant as Hong Kong itself undergoes changes that may or may not be irreversible.

Since The Catalog remains at least an alternative title to the new edition, its implications must still have been valid for its author. A library catalogue provides information about books and services physically on or off site or electronic; a mail order catalogue provides information on what goods or services are available, how to order them and how to pay for them. Dung Kai-cheung’s titular catalogue can be seen as a kind of guide for readers to the goods and services available to the Hong Kong public at the end of the old century; on the other hand, it presents usages so bizarre that a reader may sense a hidden warning that in the new century such catalogues may undergo drastic change or become redundant. The original publication was an immediate archive: the author collected and recorded what he saw around him knowing that he faced a significant moment in Hong Kong history: Retrocession. Twelve years later, the archive seemed to have become a dream.

Dung Kai-cheung’s catalogue does not systematically order his material into categories (food, clothing, shoes, toiletries, gadgets, films etc.); instead, the sketches reveal in no apparent order ways in which people adapt ordinary goods and services to their personal needs and how their lives are changed by them. The unity of the work may not be immediately apparent; classification by its author as a novel, nonetheless, suggests that there is a common thread.

The concept of catalogues, real or imaginary, as a hobby or obsession, has not attracted as much enquiry as collections, collectors or the act or results of collecting. A catalogue nevertheless presupposes a collection of some sort; and a collection is assembled by a single or collective collector. (The process may also be reversed: collections can be the result of a human need to catalogue and organise information or phenomena.)

The changing role in society from the mid-nineteenth to the early twenty-first century of objects (or goods or commodities) was a recurring and persuasive theme in works by sociologists and cultural critics, among whom Jean Baudrillard offers examples worth considering in this context. Collectors and collecting have often been depicted in European tradition in a narrowly defined way. Baudrillard accordingly depicts typical adult collectors as middle-aged men of substantial (possibly unlimited) means, driven by a range of sexual perversions, whose collecting constitutes a means of avoiding intersubjective relations.[12]

For Baudrillard the object is “a mental realm over which [the collector] hold[s] sway, a thing whose meaning is governed by [the collector] alone.” Thus, Baudrillard starts one essay by claiming that “it ought to be obvious that the objects that occupy our daily lives are in fact the objects of a passion, that of personal possession, whose quotient of invested affect is in no way inferior to that of any other variety of human passion… we can only guess at its fundamental role in keeping the lives of the individual subject or of the collectivity on an even footing, and in supporting our very project of survival….for while the object is a resistant material body, it is also, simultaneously, a mental realm over which I hold sway, a thing whose meaning is governed by myself alone…. [possession] applies to that object once it is divested of its function and made relative to a subject”. (Baudrillard, 1958, 1994: 7–24, 74)

As pointed out by Sonia Wilson, “the private collector has not always cut a particularly fine figure in fiction or theory. Baudrillard famously cast the collecting impulse as manifesting primarily in children and ‘men in their forties’… [He] represents the collector as ‘pre-eminently the sultan of a secret seraglio’ (1994: 10). This reminds us that the history of collecting is inextricably linked both to masculinist fantasies and the colonialist enterprise.” (Wilson, 2016: 398–411) Wilson argues that that collectors can also be young women without substantial means, who are not necessarily subject to sexual perversions (whatever these are held to be), and whose collection is relational.

Wilson takes an even broader approach to developing an understanding of how objects influence the people who acquire them. Thus, the collections made by Leïla Sebbar, a French-Algerian author and artist, display the powerful attraction of objects: “Her account of [these objects] is driven by her awareness of the discrepancy between the apparently trivial nature of the objects and the force of her own affective investment in them.” (Wilson, 2016: 399)

Dung Kai-cheung’s collection of things resembles to some extent Baudrillard’s, but as an assembler of collections he departs radically from Baudrillard’s obsessive collector. At the time of writing, he was in his early thirties, and not by any description a man of substantial means. There is no suggestion that he actually purchased or used any of the objects that figure as the titles of sketches (apart from the comic books), and many of his titles feature not commercial objects but pop stars, TV dramas, colours and even a cockroach.

Instead, it could be claimed that it is Dung Kai-cheung’s characters, not the author, who invest in objects in order to achieve a neurotic equilibrium (to use Baudrillard’s terminology), although many of them are not typical collectors either. As mentioned above, they are mostly girls or young women, and those who do collect may limit themselves to multiple replicas of a single object. There are several instances of obsessive collecting of things to wear or use (“Aprons”, “Grey”, “Depsea Water”, “The Waist Bag”, “Second-hand Clothes”, “Miffy”, “Hello Kitty”), although collecting as such is not a consistent focus, and in the case of foodstuffs the objects are consumed more or less on the spot (“Pastéis de Nata”, “Konjac Jellies”, “Cheesecake”). In Baudrillard’s terminology, to use objects negates possessing them.

While neither the author nor his protagonists fit exactly Baudrillard’s characterisation of a collector or the act of collecting, one reading of the title The Catalog suggests its orientation: the objects themselves constitute a realm fantastic in its cosmopolitan reach and variety, in practice defeating any attempt to catalogue them systematically. Thus, Baudrillard’s comments on objects that are collected come close to describing the role of objects in Dung Kai-cheung’s sketches. Furthermore, it can be argued that The Catalog itself represents a display of diverse objects comparable to the collections in private homes described by Baudrillard or Sebbar’s work desk and bookshelf.

It may nevertheless still be asked whether it is people or their objects that are being catalogued, or if (or how) the one (the object) shades into the other (the subject). What kind of circumstances might inspire or compel a writer to describe the trajectories of their subjects’ lives in terms of the objects those subjects incorporate in their lives? Why should these everyday objects transform the subjects’ trajectories into arcs that lift their lives out of the everyday world? Is this a new form of literary realism, or a new variety of magical realism?[13] Perhaps “fantastic realism” is a more accurate term, or perhaps weird or post-colonial realism; or even “realism with Hong Kong characteristics”: in any case, a new form of realism suited to Hong Kong’s bizarre history. The work’s second title, Dreams of Splendour, tends to favour an emphasis on the unworldliness or weirdness in the lives of its characters.

Cantonese Love StoriesA further title for these sketches suggests that readers should never underestimate this author’s proclivity for playfulness, inviting readers to search for clues to understanding his work. A selection of twenty-five sketches in completed but as yet unpublished English translations were sought for inclusion in a special Hong Kong series published by the Penguin Group (Australia) as a contribution to the twentieth anniversary of Retrocession: Cantonese Love Stories.[14] Although only a quarter of the original contents, and published only half a dozen years after The Catalog’s second version, the title chosen for the selection suggests a significant change of focus since 2011: the words “Cantonese”, “love” and “stories” are not connected either with consumerism or with objects; a preface in the form of an essay bearing the title “Dream of a Dream: On Language, Love and Storytelling” appears under a pseudonym; and the English version is not accompanied by a Chinese text.

This prefatory essay is attributed to someone called Virginia Anderson, a young woman of mixed English and Cantonese descent who reports inter alia a conversation with the author about the meaning of his work. The book title and the essay title both indicate a move away from objects and events to language and social identities; they suggest the significance of the love-lives of the young women protagonists rather than the objects they covet by way of solace or emancipation; finally, their unusual brevity draws attention to possible models in early Chinese fictional narratives.[15] According to the elusive Anderson, Cantonese Love Stories is a “at bottom” a product of a love for Cantonese as a language and “for the living reality that it conveys”, and “more concretely” love between human beings, whether passion, desire, longing, craving or obsession”. More soberly, the stories are also described as being about “people’s obsessions with possessions and other objects”; they also “exemplify fetishism in a high-capitalist society”.

This teasing essay may be regarded as suggestive although unreliable evidence of the author’s intentions; even when “Dung Kai-cheung” is being quoted by “Virginia Anderson”, his identity is as unreliable as hers.




Readers coming to the end of the complete version of The Catalog may notice two apparently contradictory but common elements in the 99 sketches: all of the characters are Chinese women and men now living in Hong Kong, but none of the goods, services and so on are from mainland China. According to Anthony Fung, “what makes Hong Kong unique [in contrast with the PRC] is its legacy of Western or global influence”.[16] A possible reason for the undeclared dominance of this legacy in The Catalog lies in Hong Kong’s history, where neither Britain nor China seemed to care about the place until confronted by its potential loss.

One of the most enigmatic sketches in The Catalog is “Converse”, which relates the story of a young woman who purchases a pair of Converse running shoes when the strap on her high-heeled sandals breaks; she has never tried canvas shoes before and starts wearing them right away since they are so comfortable. After leaving the shop, she finds herself walking backwards; soon after, as her boyfriend refuses to join her, she breaks up with him. She finds new hope when she encounters an older woman who happens to be one of a select group of people who take pride in walking backwards. The boyfriend eventually overcomes his initial prejudice and trains himself to walk backwards with her.

There are several ways in which this sketch might be interpreted (without necessarily attributing intention on the part of the author). It could be suggested that Hongkongers are more comfortable under their former (now perceived as benevolent) colonial rule than they now are under the mainland’s authoritarian government; it could just as easily be read as justification for taking one’s own path (even as a minority) in not accepting the new status of Hong Kong since Retrocession. It can also be read more simply without political or historical associations, perhaps as a victory for low-tech as opposed to hi-tech. It’s also tempting to read it as a story of the ups and down (i.e. forwards and backwards) of young love. As mentioned above, the author has noted that this work has “a touch of darkness”; it could be held that the absence of overt reference to politics or history is a deliberate move to provoke a more nuanced interpretation of the work as a whole. In any case, the absence of any reference to diversity in Hong Kong’s history, population and governance, contrasts sharply with both Atlas and the later Vivi and Vera.

Both Atlas and Vivi and Vera stem from Dung Kai-cheung’s acute awareness of the troubled history of Hong Kong over the last two centuries. While colonial and post-colonial history do not present an overt theme in The Catalog, the contested changes in Hong Kong’s status contributes towards explaining the unease felt by the local population in the closing years of the twentieth century. Although downplayed and sometimes ignored, the inglorious spectacle of two powerful countries each both ignoring and exerting claims to rule this small territory has attracted the attention of two eminent but very different historians, Frank Welsh and Steve Tsang.[17]

Declared a British possession in 1841, Hong Kong was formally ceded to Britain following the Anglo-Chinese war of 1839–1841 in the Treaty of Nanking in 1842 and established as a Crown Colony in 1843. Although generally depicted in mainland Chinese accounts as a prime example of Western lust for colonial expansion, Hong Kong was initially regarded in Britain as an unprofitable “barren island”, the culmination of a conflict which “unintentionally and to general disappointment” led to its acquisition; altogether a burden rather than an asset to its “unwilling parents” in both Britain and China (Tsang, 2004: 5–6).

By the mid-nineteenth century, Britain had achieved for Hong Kong a favourable balance of direct bilateral trade (Tsang, 2004: 9–15). Nevertheless, although local Chinese from Guangdong flocked to the foreign outpost, the colony’s growth rate in the 1840s lagged behind Canton and Shanghai. Insensitivity by British officials and merchants to the local Chinese population sometimes amounted to brutality, despite its general orderliness under the rule of law (Welsh, 1997: 165–67). As the numbers of Chinese residents eventually rose dramatically in proportion to the number of Europeans in the remaining years of the nineteenth century,[18] these laws and general practice were subject to change usually unfavourable to the local population.[19] Still, both the British and the neighbouring Chinese authorities exhibited little interest in its future prosperity (Welsh, 1997: 287).

British officialdom continued to pay scant attention to its colony into the early twentieth century,[20] despite tensions leading to repeated conflict among and between the local Chinese population, the mainly British merchants, the Colonial Service and governors, the Colonial Office in Britain, the British parliament and its foreign and diplomatic service, public opinion as expressed in journalism, and various levels of mainland Chinese politicians, militant workers and revolutionaries, plus a growing population hostile to foreign encroachment in territory, commerce and governance. At the same time, the colony (however unwillingly) became a kind of safe haven for Chinese dissidents and political refugees, who variously took part in the overthrow of the Manchu Qing dynasty in 1911 (Tsang, 2004: 73–83).

Thanks in part to continued turmoil on the mainland, Hong Kong’s population continued to grow during the twentieth century, although its economic and financial position was affected by instability beyond its borders and almost destroyed under Japanese occupation in 1942–45. The colony’s present and future status, particularly with regard to the New Territories lease, had been a subject for discussion between the British and the Hong Kong authorities from at least the 1930s (Tsang, 2004: 105–6). After the Japanese invasion in 1941, the eventual return to China of at least the New Territories was formally considered by the British Cabinet (Tsang, 2004: 119–32); at the same time, the US and other parties believed that Hong Kong should be returned to Chinese rule at the end of hostilities (Welsh, 1997: 423–34).

Chiang Kai-shek, distracted by the resistance of Chinese communist forces, was slow to devise protocol for a Japanese surrender. In the end, quick action by a British special unit put in place plans drawn up by Cabinet in 1943 to restore colonial rule over the Island, Kowloon and also the New Territories. The Japanese surrender of Hong Kong was thus accepted by the British administrator who had spent the occupation years in Hong Kong; and the incoming new administrator, David MacDougall, who had been working with the Colonial Office to prepare for the resumption of British rule, was then able to restore order within a few months of surrender (Tsang, 2004: 105–6). The possibility of independence for Hong Kong under international law was apparently not raised again until thirty years later.

The newly established People’s Republic of China in 1949, aware of Hong Kong’s usefulness as an intermediary with the rest of the world, initially disclaimed any intention of forcing rapid retrocession (Tsang, 2004: 154). As politicians in China and Britain negotiated their future, Hong Kong locals for their part began to exhibit a new awareness of their history: despite the existence of groups that took the side of the British in the UK or the Chinese on the mainland, it was also becoming clear to many Hongkongers that neither of the two sides had an overriding interest in sponsoring economic and political reform. It was left largely to the instigation of Chinese and British political elites actually stationed within Hong Kong that reforms took place not only in nomenclature (having been transformed into a “territory” since 1946 and confirmed as such in 1971) but also in the residents’ gradual admission to representation in government and increased confidence in their local culture.

It was in the 1950s, its population swollen by massive migration from the mainland, that Hong Kong’s great leap to prosperity finally took off. By the end of the 1960s, Hong Kong had even weathered the riots of the early Cultural Revolution years to consolidate its economic power as a global manufacturing hub in addition to its existing trading activities. Standards of living were further enhanced by its new role as a financial and investment centre, as famous European, US and Japanese companies lit up the streets on Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon peninsula, inviting consumption of fake and genuine products from around the world (Tsang, 2004: 161–79).

Formal discussions on Hong Kong between the UK and the PRC had opened in 1972 in connection with the resumption of full diplomatic relations between Britain and China, and both sides accepted that 1997 would be the year at which the lease and the rest of Hong Kong territory would be addressed (Welsh, 1997: 503-14; Tsang, 2004: 154–59). The end of the Cultural Revolution, however, revealed a decline in the political power and reputation of the Chinese Communist Party.

In the meantime, Hong Kong had been following a different path. The consumer-centred way of life had already taken hold in Hong Kong, and its global outlook became well established as it moved from its colonial past to a post-colonial future. At the same time, the local population’s fears of calamity were temporarily eclipsed by the increasingly ubiquitous famous brand names and their conspicuous consumption. Against this glittering backdrop, few outsiders noticed that inequality in wealth, housing, education and status still divided Hong Kong’s population,[21] while issues of democracy, identities and loyalties were brought into greater scrutiny in local debates on Hong Kong’s future (Tsang, 2004: 180–96; also 208, 211–27).

In the end, the Joint Declaration of the British and Chinese governments in 1984 established the prospect of a formal agreement on Retrocession in 1997. At the same time, however, it recognised local concerns by agreeing on a form of local rule by Hong Kong people for a further fifty years. Uncertainty and trepidation then characterised the remaining thirteen years of British rule, both despite and because of significant steps in democratic reforms proposed and sometimes instituted by the last three governors, Edward Youde, David Wilson and lastly, and most prominently, Christopher Patten in the 1990s, in defiance of fierce opposition from the Chinese government (Welsh, 1997: xv). The deep split in expectations on all sides was exacerbated by the revulsion expressed in Hong Kong at the June Fourth massacres in major cities throughout China in 1989 (Tsang, 2004: 246, 247–53).

Following Retrocession in 1997, mainland visitors gained access to Hong Kong’s consumer society, rapidly expanding the quantity, range and glamour of its goods for sale; political and other setbacks caused only temporary halts to the onrush of global economic investment in Hong Kong (Welsh, 1997: 153–54). When China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, it intensified changes in the nation’s social structure and behaviour that could hardly even have been imagined a decade or so earlier. Amongst these changes was the atomisation of social relations in the new consumer economy.

How could young adults in Hong Kong in the 1980s and 1990s make sense of their experiences of rule from the outside, whether overtly or covertly colonial? At times in its history as a colony, the local population would have been aware that Hong Kong was seen as a burden reluctantly shouldered by both Britain and China, while at other times it became a bitterly fought-over possession. To many Hongkongers, the advantages of inheriting both Chinese and British traditions were acknowledged and even welcomed. The prospect of losing this dual legacy led in the early 1980s to a common choice by those in a position to do so to escape to the outside world. Some returned during the late 1990s recovery; otherwise, escape into one’s private or inner world was a choice open to a wider range of people, especially the young, throughout the next decades. Their lives seem to be far removed from the kind of turmoil that draws international attention; their histories don’t hit the headlines. They are nonetheless affected by the political eddies that swirl around the space and time of modern Hong Kong.

Dung Kai-cheung’s Hong Kong readers, whether on first publication of The Catalog at the end of the last century or the reprint twelve years later, would be familiar with this historical background (not all the details, it may be supposed, but the broad outline). The same may not be true of the English-speakers who read translations of his work. In any case, it is only necessary for either Hongkongers or English-language readers to be generally aware of the respective engagements (or their absence) of the British and Chinese governments with the government and people of Hong Kong in recent years. The sketches in The Catalog, written shortly after Retrocession, do not refer to political or diplomatic history: the pervasive atmosphere of uneasiness among their protagonists is instead foregrounded by the power of objects and events to assuage their fears or, at least, divert their attention. Shuttling between two allegiances, local Hongkongers might find, in the appropriation of domestic and cultural phenomena from across the world, a kind of identity that they could internalise.

Writing in 2010–2011, Gordon Mathews notices an apparent contrast between what he saw as the racial and moral conservatism of the majority Cantonese population of Hong Kong on the one hand, and on the other the highly visible cosmopolitanism of Hong Kong’s notorious Chungking Mansions, populated largely by South Asian and African traders as well as a handful of tourists from the mainland and other parts of the world. In evidence, Gordon cites with approval the relaxed policing he observed: “For most low-end traders … the law can be at least partially ignored.” (Mathews, 2011: 152) The law and police do not often appear in Dung Kai-cheung’s fiction, possibly because of the general tolerance adopted by Hong Kong’s law and order authorities towards the personal lives of the local population. On the other hand, if The Catalog is a reliable witness, the Hong Kong population may not have been as conservative or law-abiding as Mathews imagines: characters in The Catalog engage in petty crime, selling counterfeit or smuggled goods; there is a rape and mention of a past paedophile molestation.

Awareness both within and beyond China that Hong Kong was a prize now worth having rather than a burden to be contested was by now prevalent, although concerns were still being voiced. According to Leo Goodstadt, a journalist, academic and policy advisor to Wilson and Patten, with full access to public and government archives and drawing also on his own wide reading and personal experience, Hong Kong was well governed and prosperous in the 1980s and 1990s and remained buoyant through the new post-1997 regimes up to 2015; the economy and politics were only “endangered” in the latter period by its inefficient Chief Executives: Tung Chee-hwa, Donald Tsang, Leung Chun-ying and Carrie Lam (Goodstadt, 2018). When Dung Kai-cheung was writing Atlas in 1996/1997 the situation had not markedly deteriorated; it was becoming worse when he was writing The Catalog in 1998/1999. By the time of its reprint in 2011, its portrayal of the unease that led his characters to adopt goods and services to give meaning to their lives still engaged the attention of readers in Hong Kong and beyond.

A striking feature of late twentieth and early twenty-first century Hong Kong was its unfailing esteem for post-war Japan. In 1984, after the end of the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese state government had welcomed a new warmth between the two countries, most evident when Hu Yaobang, then Party Secretary, invited three thousand young Japanese to tour China at the Party’s expense. In 2005, however, when a massive boycott of Japanese goods was launched throughout the mainland, it failed spectacularly to take hold in Hong Kong, where both large and small Japanese shops continued to be well patronised by local customers, the boycott more or less completely disregarded. Despite the mainland’s repeated attempts to bring the former colony under its control, Hong Kong continued to maintain its own identity: sometimes by overt political protest, and sometimes just by remaining wedded to local customs consolidated over the previous centuries. Although Japanese pop culture has now to some degree been superseded by Korean influence, the Japanese consumer goods described in The Catalog needed only minor updating twenty years on.

Dung Kai-cheung is not a sociologist, nor—it hardly needs saying—is this author. Given Hong Kong’s modern history, however, it seems reasonable to assume that the characters portrayed in The Catalog, especially the young women, find in branded goods, film stars and popular songs some kind of certainty in lives that otherwise may seem aimless, empty, lacking in purpose.




A factor that may explain some of the vigour in local writing in Hong Kong may be its lack of an official writers’ association of the kind that exercises considerable power on the mainland. It may be argued that mainland China gives unnecessarily high rewards to writers who conform to officially sanctioned or at least tolerated themes. In Hong Kong, on the other hand, while there are plenty of awards and grants, writers are not offered high positions in the official hierarchy. Given that censorship of literary works in Hong Kong is virtually non-existent, Hong Kong literature is in an excellent position to provide documentation from the margins on the values of diversity, individual autonomy and imaginative freedom.

There is a widespread belief, going beyond cultural circles, that Hong Kong is merely delusional in regarding itself as the hub of Asia: it is and only ever has been a border town, on the periphery of empire (British and Chinese) and not at anyone’s centre. This notion, that Hong Kong lives on “borrowed time, borrowed place”,[22] is described and rejected by Dung Kai-cheung in his Preface to Atlas, but it may be another factor in the lack of attention outside East Asia given to Hong Kong writers and artists. It can, of course, be argued that Hong Kong still has an expiry date—it used to be 1997 but is now 2047, when it is scheduled to pass under Mainland rule. Hong Kong still has a giant looming next door, now much more powerful than one or two decades earlier. Uncertainties about the future remain. Is Hong Kong a place with its own past and future, worthy of a literary culture created by its own people? Or is its interest to the world outside no more than its exotic setting, or its frank commercial appeal as a place where anything can be bought and sold?

Setting aside language politics, why should anyone apart from Chinese Hongkongers want to read and study Hong Kong literature in Chinese? Is it worth translating, adapting or otherwise rewriting it to attract the attention of readers in the rest of China and the world? Must it first be accepted in China before the rest of the world takes notice? Or is international recognition the prerequisite for gaining respect in China?

Literary fiction across the developed world in the second half of the twentieth century has generally been written by the highly educated (with notable exceptions in the US) for what seemed a diminishing readership: the more the consumer society flourished the more it was derided by elites. In Hong Kong, it became increasingly difficult to determine wherein the true interests of the majority Cantonese population lay. True, the characters in The Catalog are not solely the “poor and oppressed” whose fate was the concern of much twentieth century Chinese fiction, but Dung Kai-cheung’s disaffected women and men are still not the authors of their own stories. It has taken an extraordinary sensibility to write about the avid consumerism of this urban population without adopting a complacently superior attitude towards it. Instead, the author of these sketches evokes the courageous but occasionally futile attempts of ordinary Hong Kong people to restore sanity to their individual lives despite their frustration, loneliness and bewilderment. Dung Kai-cheung’s characters in The Catalog are neither the wretched collectors described by Baudrillard nor the artistic collectors of Sebbar’s world, but apparently ordinary young women and others who made their lives often richer but sometimes poorer by attaching themselves to material or immaterial goods and services. One can imagine that the author developed tender feelings towards his hapless collectors but remained indifferent to the objects they collected. None of this is explicit. This is the remarkable achievement in Dung Kai-cheung’s Catalog.

In truth, none of the factors in Hong Kong’s limited literary reception in the rest of the world (and none of the questions listed above) may in the end count for much: a small handful of writers is sometimes enough to transform the image of small countries in the literary world: localism is not necessarily a barrier to international appeal, and innovation can always win new readers. If only in this respect, the response of one Hong Kong writer to the capture of popular urban culture through the medium of high culture, along with its blend of cosmopolitanism, localism and literary innovation, has resulted in fiction with universal appeal. Dung Kai-cheung’s personal experience has enlivened his research into the past and given him apprehensive hopes for the future; above all, his brilliantly original writing should win a global audience. Atlas and The Catalog are not only among the most engaging works to come out of Hong Kong in recent years but also point to the maturity of Hong Kong in Chinese literary culture. Quite apart from its conspicuous wealth, urban excitements and tranquil countryside, Hong Kong has a strong claim on the attention of readers in China and in the rest of the world.

In September 2015 The Economist ran a special section on China’s new science and technology. (The Economist, 12–18 September 2015: 3–6). In unusually rapturous prose, it described highly innovative technologies and scientific discoveries produced in recent years by private companies and government institutions. The result, it claims, has astonished the rest of the world hitherto accustomed to regarding Chinese industry as largely second-hand, the product of reverse-engineering or at worst of stolen or hacked blueprints from the US and Europe. The Economist’s optimism was tempered only by its concerns for China’s general economic growth.

One corner of China has managed to sidestep even this concern. Hong Kong has long been depicted as a commercial gateway between China and the rest of the world, to the profit of all three parties. However, trade, finance, science and technology are not the only pathways to world attention. The Catalog allows readers to glimpse how Hong Kong fosters an innovative, cosmopolitan and at the same time local literary culture. It is time that the value of the literary and artistic culture that Hong Kong presents to the rest of the world was fully acknowledged.


Ballard, J. G. (1973, 1995), “Introduction”, Crash, London: Vintage.

Dung, Kai-cheung (2005), Tiangong kaiwu: Xuxu Ruzhen [Works and Creation: Vivid and Lifelike], Taipei: Maitian.

Dung, Kai-cheung (1997, rev. ed. 2011), Ditu ji—yige xiangxiang de chengshji de kaoguxue, Taipei: Linking Publishing Company; Hong Kong: Unitas Publishing House.

Dung, Kai-cheung [“Kai”] (1999), The Catalog, Hong Kong: Trio Publications.

Dung, Kai-cheung (2011), The Catalog, Hong Kong: Sanren; Menghua lu, Taipei: Linking Publishing Company.

Dung, Kai-cheung (2012), Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City, translated by Dung Kai-cheung, Anders Hansson & Bonnie S. McDougall, New York: Columbia University Press.

Dung, Kai-cheung (2018), The History of the Adventures of Vivi and Vera written by Dung Kai-cheung under the Inspiration of the Ancient Chinese Treatise Celestial Creations and the Works of Man, translated by Yau Wai-ping, Hong Kong: East Slope.

Dung, Kai-cheung (2017), Cantonese Love Stories, translated by Bonnie S. McDougall & Anders Hansson, Sydney: Penguin Books.

Goodstadt, Leo F. (2018), A City Mismanaged: Hong Kong’s Struggle for Survival, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.

Ingham, Michael (2007), Hong Kong: A Cultural History, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kai: see Dung Kai-cheung

Lee, Leo Ou-fan (2008), City between Worlds: My Hong Kong, Cambridge Mass: Belknap Press.

Mathews, Gordon (2011), Ghetto at the Center of the World: Chungking Mansions, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.

Tsang, Steve (2004), A Modern History of Hong Kong, London: Taurus.

Welsh, Frank (1997), A History of Hong Kong, London: HarperCollins.

Edited Volume
Wong, Nim-yan (ed.) (2014), Dong Qizhang juan, Hong Kong: Xianggang dangdai zuojia zuopin xuanji, Tiandi tushu.

Paper in edited volume
Baudrillard, Jean (1994), “The System of Collecting”, translation of “Le Système marginal” (1958), 7–24, 74, in John Elsner and Roger Cardinal (eds.), The Cultures of Collecting: From Elvis to Antiques, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.

Fung, Anthony (2008), “Discourse and Cultural Identity: Towards a Global Identity for Hong Kong”, 180–202, in Doreen D. Wu (ed.), Discourses of Cultural China in the Globalizing Age, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press; quotation p. 195.

McDougall, Bonnie S. (2009), “Diversity as Value: Marginality, Post-colonialism and Identity in Modern Chinese Literature,” 137–65, in Artur K. Wardega (ed.), Belief, History and the Individual in Modern Chinese Literary Culture, Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

McDougall, Bonnie S. (2018), “1997. Hong Kong’s Literary Retrocession in Three Fantastical Novels,” 856­–61, in David Der-wei Wang (ed.), A New Literary History of Modern China, Cambridge Mass: Belknap Press.

Working paper
Hee, Wai Siam (2007), “Hei qishi de lianwu/(lishi) weiwupi: Dung Kai-cheung lun” [The Black Rider’s Fetishism or (Historical) Materialism: On Dung Kai-cheung], David C. Lam Institute for East-West Studies [LEWI] Working Paper Series, Baptist University, Hong Kong.

Journal articles
Chau Man Lut (2015), “Dui xiaofei wenhua de ‘moni’, chengxian yu fansi: lun Dong Qizhang de chengshi shuxie”’ [The ‘imitation’, reveals and reflections of consumer culture: An inquisition of the city writing in Dong Qizhang’s The Catalog], Renwen Zhongguo xuebao, 21: 434–61.

McDougall, Bonnie S. (2005): “Privacy Concepts, Values and Terminologies in Hong Kong Fiction”, Institute of Chinese Studies Visiting Professor Lecture Series 1, Journal of Chinese Studies Special Issue: 107-67.

Rojas, Carlos (2016), “’Symptom of an Era’: Dung Kai-Cheung’s Histories of Time”, Frontiers of Literary Studies in China 10(1): 133-49.

Wang, David Der-wei (2011). “A Hong Kong miracle of a different kind: Dung Kai-Cheung’s writing/action and Xuexi Niandai (the apprenticeship)”, China Perspectives, 1: 80-85.

Wilson, Sonia (2016), “The work of collecting: Objects, sociality and self in Leïla Sebbar’s Lettres parisiennes and Mes Algéries en France”, French Cultural Studies 27 (4): 398–411.

Unattributed newspaper article
The Economist (2015), “Back to business: Special report [on] Business in China”, September 12-18, 3–6.


[1] For my essays on these topics, see Bonnie S. McDougall (2005): “Privacy Concepts, Values and Terminologies in Hong Kong Fiction”, McDougall (2009), “Diversity as Value: Marginality, Post-colonialism and Identity in Modern Chinese Literature” and McDougall (2018), “1997. Hong Kong’s Literary Retrocession in Three Fantastical Novels”.

[2] Dung Kai-cheung’s fiction has won high praise in Hong Kong from literary sinologists, including Leo Ou-fan Lee and K. K. Leonard Chan, and been anthologised in collections of Hong Kong literature. His literary awards in Taiwan and Hong Kong include the Unitas Fiction Writing Award for New Writers (1994), the United Daily News Literary Award for the Novel (1995) and the Hong Kong Arts Development Council Literary Award for New Writers (1997). Individual works were ranked among the Best Ten in the Annual Book Awards (2005) of the two major Literary Supplements in Taiwan (Unitas Daily and China Times Daily) and won the Adjudicators’ Award, The Dream of Red Chamber Award: The World’s Distinguished Novel in Chinese, Hong Kong Baptist University in 2006 and in 2008. In 2006 Chu Man Lut completed a Chinese University of Hong Kong PhD dissertation on Dung Kai-cheung’s writing. Dung received the Award for Best Artist 2007/2008 (literary arts) from the Hong Kong Arts Development Council, Best Artist 2007/2008 from the Hong Kong Arts Development Council, and Author of the Year at the Hong Kong Book Fair in 2014. Most recently, he won first prize for fiction at the 2019 Taipei International Book Exhibition literature awards announced on January 11.

[3] Ditu ji – yige xiangxiang de chengshi de kaoguxue, first published in Taipei in 1997, is Dung Kai-cheung’s best known work. The English co-translation by the author, Anders Hansson and Bonnie S. McDougall, published by Columbia University Press in New York in 2012, won the top US Science Fiction and Fantasy Award in 2013, although it is neither science fiction nor conventional fantasy. A revised version of the Chinese text under its short title appeared in 2011 in Hong Kong. Atlas was also translated into Japanese in 2012. For more information and analysis see Dung, “Preface: An Archaeology for the Future”, xi–x & McDougall, “Introduction”, Atlas, xvii–xxxiii.

[4] Tiangong kaiwu: Xuxu Ruzhen, first published in Taipei in 2005, has been translated by Yau Wai-ping under the title The History of the Adventures of Vivi and Vera written by Dung Kai-cheung under the Inspiration of the Ancient Chinese Treatise Celestial Creations and the Works of Man, the title given the author’s approval. It has also been referred to as Works and Creation: Vivid and Lifelike.

5 Cantonese Love Stories is a translation into English by McDougall and Hansson of twenty-five of the sketches in The Catalog, published by Penguin to mark the twentieth anniversary of Retrocession in 2017; for comment see below. Another Catalog sketch was published in the journal World Literature Today in November 2015. A complete English translation of The Catalog has been accepted for publication by Columbia University Press.

[6] Lee (2008), City between Worlds: My Hong Kong, Cambridge Mass: Belknap Press, 18–19, 162, 291n2; McDougall (2009), “Diversity as Value: Marginality, Post-colonialism and Identity in Modern Chinese Literature,” 137–65, in Artur K. Wardega (ed.), Belief, History and the Individual in Modern Chinese Literary Culture, Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, and McDougall (2018), “1997. Hong Kong’s Literary Retrocession in Three Fantastical Novels,” 856­–61, in David Der-wei Wang (ed.), A New Literary History of Modern China, Cambridge Mass: Belknap Press; Rojas (2016), “’Symptom of an Era’: Dung Kai-Cheung’s Histories of Time”, Frontiers of Literary Studies in China 10(1): 133-49; Wang (2011), “A Hong Kong miracle of a different kind: Dung Kai-Cheung’s writing/action and Xuexi Niandai (the apprenticeship)”, China Perspectives, 1: 80-85; and Ingham (2007), Hong Kong: A Cultural History, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 42, 70,105–6.

7 The Catalog was first published in Hong Kong in July 1999 in a somewhat bizarre format (e.g. the text is printed in variously coloured pages and fonts). In republication in 2011, the cover shows two titles, The Catalog and Menghua lu; the cover wrap gives only The Catalog, while the title page and colophon give only Menghua lu. To date The Catalog remains relatively unknown outside Hong Kong.

[7] Tong King Lee, “Mobility of Method: Distributed Literatures and Semiotic Repertoires”, MCLC Resource Center Publication (copyright March 2019)

[9] For a full description, see William H. Nienhauser, Jr (ed.) (1986), The Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature (Bloomington: Indiana University Press), 832-33 et passim, where the title is translated as The Eastern Capital: a record of splendors past.

[10] For a detailed study of The Catalog as Dung Kai-cheung’s exploration of Hong Kong’s consumer culture see Chau Man Lut (2015), “Dui xiaofei wenhua de ‘moni’, chengxian yu fansi: lun Dong Qizhang de chengshi shuxie”’ (The ‘imitation’, reveals and reflections of consumer culture: An inquisition of the city writing in Dong Qizhang’s The Catalog), Renwen Zhongguo xuebao, vol. 21, 434–61. Hee Wai Siam’s working paper of 2007, “Hei qishi de lianwu/(lishi) weiwupi: Dung Kai-cheung lun” (The Black Rider’s fetishism or (historical) materialism: on Dung Kai-cheung), lists some fetishistic items in The Catalog, p. 6.

[11] Dung Kai-cheung (2011), “Guoshi de meixue” (An aesthetics of obsolescence), The Catalog, 281-83.

[12] Chau’s citation of Baudrillard’s comments on the consumer society demonstrates the latter’s relevance in this century, but Baudrillard (1929–2007) writing on collectors may seem closer to Balzac (1799–1850) than to his own contemporaries such as Derrida (1930–2004).

[13] The latter broadly understood as a literary genre in which a realistic narrative is combined with elements of dreams or fantasies.

[14] The sketches were selected by the author from among those already translated into English. The essay “Dream of a Dream: On Language, Love and Storytelling”, appears pp. 5–13.

[15] According to Anderson, Dung likens the sketches to biji xiaoshuo (p. 8).

[16] Anthony Fung (2008), “Discourse and Cultural Identity: Towards a Global Identity for Hong Kong”, 180–202, in Doreen D. Wu (ed.), Discourses of Cultural China in the Globalizing Age, Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press; quotation p. 195.

[17] A History of Hong Kong (rev. ed. 1997) by Frank Welsh is based on documentation from official British and Hong Kong governments, letters by individual residents and visitors, and his personal observation; an equally lucid work written from a different perspective and based on different sources is A Modern History of Hong Kong (2004) by Steve Tsang. Both agree on the often-overlooked dismissive stance taken by both governments towards Hong Kong.

[18] Complete freedom for any Chinese to travel to and live in the colony was retained until World War II; see Welsh, p. 297.

[19] For an account of British refusal to discriminate against the local Chinese in favour of the European merchants in Hong Kong, see Tsang, 26–28.

[20] “The House of Commons considered colonial affairs to be unutterably tedious, and often found difficulty in mustering a quorum for the infrequent debates on the subject.” (Welsh, 229)

[21] See the special issue of China Review, “Poverty in a Rich Society—The Case of Hong Kong”, 15(2), Fall 2015.

[22] A notion popularised by Richard J. Hughes in Hong Kong: Borrowed place, borrowed time, London: Deutsch, 1968; republished under the title Borrowed Place, Borrowed Time: Hong Kong and its Many Faces, 1976.



Bonnie S. McDougall was Visiting Professor at the Department of Chinese Studies, University of Sydney in 2010 and is now an Honorary Professor. An outstanding scholar and translator, Professor McDougall has made extraordinary contributions to the study of China’s modern literature. Born in Sydney, she first studied Chinese at Peking University (1958-59). Academic appointments include teaching and research at Sydney University, followed by SOAS, Harvard, Oslo, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and the City University of Hong Kong. The founding professor of Chinese at the University of Edinburgh in 1990, she was appointed Emeritus Professor in 2006. While a full-time translator at the Foreign Languages Press in the 1980s, McDougall translated poetry, fiction and film-scripts by new writers emerging through the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, among them Bei Dao, Ah Cheng, Chen Kaige, Gu Cheng, Qiu Xiaolong and Wang Anyi. Her other translations include poetry, fiction, drama and essays by Guo Moruo, He Qifang, Ye Shengtao, Yu Dafu, Ding Xilin and Zhu Guangqian, and Hong Kong fiction and poetry by Xi Xi, Dung Kai Cheung and Leung Ping-kwan. She has taught literary translation at the College of Foreign Affairs in Beijing as well as in the UK and Hong Kong. Recent books include Love-letters and Privacy in Modern China: The Intimate Lives of Lu Xun and Xu Guangping (Oxford, 2002); Fictional Authors, Imaginary Audiences: Modern Chinese Literature in the Twentieth Century (Hong Kong, 2003); Translation Zones in Modern China: Authoritarian command versus gift exchange (New York, 2011); the translation into English of The King of Trees by Ah Cheng (New York, 2010); and the co-translation into English of Atlas: The Archeology of an Imaginary City by Dung Kai-cheung (New York, 2012).

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