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Arts Tatler Reading List: 10 Books About Hong Kong By Hongkongers

Tatler Reading List: 10 Books About Hong Kong By Hongkongers

Tatler Reading List: 10 Books About Hong Kong By Hongkongers
These contemporary titles will re-open your eyes to the city you think you know. (Photo: Courtesy of freestocks.org via Pexels)
By Zabrina Lo
By Zabrina Lo
May 26, 2020
Update your bookshelf this summer with these 10 books about Hong Kong, written by those who know the city inside out.

Hong Kong literature may have a relatively short history, but long gone are the days when anglophone Hong Kong literature was only about the love affair between a Susie Wong and a Robert Lomax at the exoticised harbour. Although many of the anglophone titles used to be written by expats, favoured by foreigners or translated from Chinese, over the last few decades, there has been a growing number of works written in English about Hong Kong, by Hongkongers.

Here are 10 contemporary titles that will re-open your eyes to the city you think you know.

1/10 A Modern History of Hong Kong: 1841-1997 by Steve Tsang (2003)

Genre: History

There’s no better source than a history book to learn about a city’s birth and growth. Tsang’s comprehensive book starts from the very beginning: from Hong Kong’s occupation by the British in 1841 to the handover in 1997, offering insights into the city’s changing identities as an imperial outpost, the pearl of the British Empire and of the Orient, and finally to its status as a Special Administrative Region.

Addressing the changing relations between the local Chinese and the expatriate communities in 156 years of British rule, this book paints a detailed prequel to the international city that Hong Kong is today.

Available on Amazon

2/10 A Hong Kong Memoir by Fan Ho (2014)

Genre: Photography

If you are looking for something less dense with text, Ho’s third monograph features a collection of black-and-white photos that capture locals and streetscapes during the 1950s and 1960s through a humanistic and voyeuristic lens.

The celebrated Chinese photographer and film director (1931-2016) is known for his sharp eye on light, composition and striking images captured at the “decisive moment” – a term dubbed by French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, who referred to the almost purist technique of waiting for the perfect moment to click the camera shutter.

Ho won over 280 awards from international exhibitions and competitions worldwide for his photography since 1956. Published after The Living Theatre (2009) and Hong Kong Yesterday (2012), this collection features Ho’s montaged photographs.

Available on Amazon

See also: 20 Hong Kong Photographers On Instagram Who Capture The Soul Of The City

3/10 Hong Kong Diner by Jeremy Pang (2017)

Genre: Cookbook

The cinematic cityscape isn’t the only thing that Hong Kong has to offer. To Pang, a British-born chef who started the School of Wok – Europe’s only award-winning Oriental and Asian cookery school – Hong Kong’s culinary scene is where its eastern roots merges with western tastes, ancient cuisine and modern ideas.

All these are recorded in Pang’s cookbook, which contains pictures, historical anecdotes and cooking methods of over 70 recipes of the city’s most iconic dishes and delicacies. The book features street snacks like curry fishballs, dai pai dong’s signature claypot rice, exquisite baos and dumplings, and many more.

Available on Amazon

See also: Our Favourite Classic Hong Kong Dishes

4/10 The Avifauna of Hong Kong by the Hong Kong Birdwatching Society (2001)

Genre: Nature

Hong Kong has some of the lushest wetlands in the world that provide for 480 species of birds. 60% of them are migratory birds, which take on the epic journey between Siberia and northern China, as well as to the south every autumn and winter. As a major replenishment station, Hong Kong is a great place for witnessing this stunning natural event.

The Avifauna of Hong Kong is a comprehensive catalogue published by experts from the Hong Kong Birdwatching Society. It has accumulated 41 years of records and surveys (including the first breeding bird survey carried out in the city), detailed assessments of the status and distribution of each species, and comparisons made with data collated as far back as 1861.

The book also contains an assessment of the effect of the wild bird trade in Hong Kong, making it a great reference to the status of the birds of south China.

Available on Amazon

5/10 No City for Slow Men: Hong Kong’s Quirks and Quandaries Laid Bare by Jason Y. Ng (2015)

Genre: Essays

The mores of a city are sometimes unnoticed for sojourners. Yet for locals, they may have gotten so used to life in this city that anything peculiar is simply overlooked. Ng pries out the pressing social, cultural and existential issues facing Hong Kong in his collection of 36 essays.

The shocking property market, old age poverty, the storied streets of Sheung Wan, the culture-shocked Western expat, the misunderstood Mainland Chinese and the disenfranchised foreign domestic worker – all become fascinating subjects to his sarcastic, razor-sharp pen that nevertheless magnifies the poignancy of Hong Kong’s apparently funny quirks.

Available on Amazon

6/10 The Book of Change by Eileen Chang (2010)

Genre: Semi-autobiography

Think of a Hong Kong romance writer and Eileen Chang (1920-1995) will definitely come to mind. The Shanghai-born novelist studied English Literature at the University of Hong Kong in 1939. She made her name in the literary arena while a high school student as a result of her works’ unique feminine elegance and classic beauty against the backdrop of a war-torn China. 

The Book of Change is one of her few works written originally in English inspired by her student days in Japanese-occupied Hong Kong. The semi-autobiographical novel is the second part to The Fall of the Pagoda (2010), which chronicles her childhood and adolescence from 1924 to 1938 in Shanghai. Chang hoped to launch her American career with these English works but failed to find a publisher.

Although the two posthumous books received mixed reviews, they offer readers an insider’s view into the author’s life, especially the second book which revolves around her life in Hong Kong, where her magnum opus Love in A Fallen City (1943) is set.

Available on Amazon

7/10 Remembering Shanghai: A Memoir of Socialites, Scholars and Scoundrels by Claire Chao (2018)

Genre: Biography

For a true story of an influential Asian American Hongkonger, check out Clarie Chao’s biography, co-written with her mother Isabel Sun Chao. For 30 years, Chao has taken up leadership positions at Hill & Knowlton, Tiffany and Co., Burberry Asia Limited and many more business empires, establishing her name in Asia’s luxury brand marketing industry. But perhaps what she is most remembered for is her recent biography Remembering Shanghai, which has been adapted into a drama series by Corey Tong. 

In 1950, Isabel came to Hong Kong, where she established her life and raised her family. It wasn’t until three decades later in 2008 that Isabel returned to her hometown with her daughter Claire for a holiday. As a curious individual, Clarie asked her mother all about war trauma and starvation, but her mother’s memories paint an unexpected, and often overlooked picture – Shanghai’s entertainment venues, cinemas, the bygone nightclubs, and fashionable boutiques.

After Jung Chang’s Wild Swan (1991), Remembering Shanghai is a fresh new addition to the thin collection of personal accounts of 20th-century China, and the journey of a Hongkonger retracing her roots.

Available on Amazon

8/10 Letters Home by Jennifer Wong (2020)

Genre: Poetry

Wong chooses to navigate her sense of home through the form of poetry. After Summer Cicadas (2006) and Goldfish (2013), the Hong Kong-born and raised poet published her third work in February 2020. Letters Home documents the displacements of the Chinese-British diaspora. Living abroad in Oxford and London, she explores homesickness, nostalgia, and identity. She weaves her experiences into stories of displacement and migration.

The collection pockets a wide array of stories, such as those about an ice-lantern, a derelict village school in Guizhou, as well as the graffiti and tear gas in Hong Kong. In particular, this collection is marked by her investigation of language as a metaphor for displacement. Wong’s slices of life, tenderly told, deepen and surprise readers’ understanding of the city’s history, culture and language on various levels.

Available on Amazon

9/10 China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan (2016)

Genre: Fiction

After his wildly successful debut, Crazy Rich Asians (2013) – which was adapted into the highest-grossing romantic comedy in a decade – Kwan turns his eyes from Singapore to Paris, Silicon Valley, Shanghai and Hong Kong – the new epicentre of the radically changing Asian social conventions.

The sequel chronicles Rachel’s quest to find her family after her wedding, where a mysterious man who turns out to be his father shows up. Kwan delivers another satirical, fun and delightful story, which is built on in-depth research on a hot global subject – mainland China’s rising society. Featuring the old cast and new characters, including China’s new generation of nouveau riche, the bestselling writer examines what it means to be crazy rich in this new Asia.

Available on Amazon

See also: Kevin Kwan On The Evolution Of Asian Society In Modern Times

10/10 History’s Fiction: Stories from the City of Hong Kong by Xu Xi (2001)

Genre: Short-story collection

One of the city’s most representative writers, Xu Xi, boldly suggests, “We do not experience history as chronicled by historians. Rather, we know where we were when the buses stopped in 1967 amid the riots on Nathan Road, or to whom we turned when midnight struck on June 30, 1997.”

In compiling the collection, Xu enters the private lives of Hongkongers, and examines their intricate feelings and voices against the backdrop of the turbulent years between the 1960s and the handover – the defining period of evolution, urban progress and turmoil. It is the subtle – and sometimes indiscernible – things like love, joy and despair that she magnifies and finds solid in defining the identities of the city.

Available on Amazon

See also: 8 Places In Hong Kong To Learn About Local Heritage And Culture

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Arts Hong Kong books Hong Kong authors reading list. books to read books about Hong Kong A Modern History of Hong Kong A Hong Kong Memoir Hong Kong Diner The Book of Change Scholars and Scoundrels Letters Home China Rich Girlfriend Kevin Kwan

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