A WEEK IN BOOKS
Boyd Tonkin is Senior Writer and a columnist at The Independent. An award-winning journalist, he was formerly Literary Editor at The Independent, and before that Social Policy Editor and then Books Editor at the New Statesman magazine. He has broadcast extensively for BBC arts and current affairs programmes and has judged the Booker Prize, the Whitbread biography award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the David Cohen Prize. In 2001, he re-founded the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for literature in translation, and serves on its judging panel every year.
Saturday 28 June 1997
On Monday, the yellow dragon's red successors will swallow the Union Jacks that so upset Huang. The perfect moment, you may think, to find shelves crammed with learned yet polished books about the almost-ex Crown Colony and the much older empire back in charge of it. Easily said than done. You can consult the superb special issue of Index magazine (reviewed by Denis MacShane on 22 March), taste the sour wit of Paul Theroux in Kowloon Tong or switch off with duff catchpenny thrillers bearing titles such as Red Mandarin or The Last Six Million Seconds. Yet sound non-fiction written for non-academic eyes remains pretty scarce, even though the date of Hong Kong's reversion has been etched in scarlet for more than a decade.
A few publishers have caught the tide. Huang's polite little protest appears in the vast treasure-trove of Stephen Owen's Anthology of Chinese Literature: beginnings to 1911, shrewdly paperbacked by WW Norton (pounds 18.95) to snare a fresh wave of China watchers. Well arranged, with helpful commentaries, its 3,000 years of verse and prose could keep browsers happy until the next plum blossom falls.
Owen features endless generations of brave, reflective scholar-poets spurned by the tyrants and toadies at court. Tragically, the pattern endures. Viking has collected the prison letters of the dissident Wei Jingsheng as The Courage to Stand Alone (pounds 16.99). Wei was first tried in 1979 after pasting his eloquent pleas for liberty on Beijing's short-lived "Democracy Wall". He still languishes in Tangshan jail. If the West really cared much about rights in Hong Hong (which ultimately now depend on rights in Beijing) then stadia would be crammed for "Free Wei" rock concerts. But we've been there, done that, bought the T-shirt.
As for the the "Fragrant Harbour" itself, the handiest new analyses come in Roger Buckley's Hong Kong: the Road to 1997 (Cambridge, pounds 12.95) and Steve Tsang's Hong Kong: an Appointment with China (IB Tauris, pounds 10.95), both fact-packed but rather colourless. Tsang ends by comparing the hand- over to an arranged match, and offers the shy "bride" this prognosis: "Although the husband is prone to bullying, he wants to make a success of the marriage and thus provides a glimpse of hope." Charming, I'm sure. Home life with a returning dragon has its drawbacks.
Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing
Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 East 17 bandmember Brian Harvey in 'very desperate situation’
- 2 Is this bridge haunted by the ghost of nu rave?
- 3 Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
- 4 The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
- 5 Scientists have discovered a simple way to cook rice that dramatically cuts the calories
Britain's first cinema flickers back to life following £6m refurbishment
A historian gave the most British look of despair when someone screwed up Richard III's birthday at his reburial
James May hints Top Gear days are over following Jeremy Clarkson's BBC exit
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
James May hints he will not continue on Top Gear without Jeremy Clarkson
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
David Cameron calls Labour 'hopeless, sneering socialists' while announcing 7-day NHS plans
Revealed: Putin's army of pro-Kremlin bloggers
The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew