Kevin Sinclair: Hong Kong journalist and writer

Kevin Sinclair was probably the best known working hack (his own, preferred description) in the former British colony of Hong Kong. Bibulous, splenetic and formidably energetic, he was born in New Zealand but spent more than 40 years in Hong Kong working for The Star, The Hong Kong Standard and, most of all, for The South China Morning Post where his regular column was still appearing until shortly before his death.

He also wrote 24 books and managed to rise from his sick-bed to attend the launch of the last one, Tell Me a Story: forty years of newspapering in Hong Kong and China. This was held in his beloved Foreign Correspondents' Club and attended by many of his old friends, including the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Donald Tsang, as well as curious newer members.

Born on a farm in New Zealand in 1942, Sinclair left school at 16 and worked for different newspapers from messenger boy to reporter, before travelling to Hong Kong in 1968 "by ship, because my parents were very poor and couldn't afford to buy a plane ticket". He was one of the first modern Western journalists to visit mainland China after the death of Mao in 1976. An early encounter with the cancer that was eventually to kill him led to a tracheotomy in 1978 and a hole in his neck, through which he learned to hold forth as forcefully as ever. The Chinese, amazed, christened him "the mad gweilo journalist who talks through his throat". It was typical of Sinclair that he much enjoyed this description.

Always a passionate champion of his adopted home, he was particularly attached to the local police force, about which he wrote knowledgeably and with affection (publishing Asia's Finest, 1983; Royal Hong Kong Police 150th Anniversary, 1994; and Asia's Finest Marches On, 1997), but his net was all-encompassing and there was, effectively, nothing about which he could not turn out a trenchant column at speed and to length. Latterly he had acquired a considerable reputation as a wine buff and was an occasional drinking companion of another oenophile, the last British Governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten.

Sinclair's recently published memoirs are replete with anecdotes of an often Münchhausen-like quality. One of the most typical concerns the outbreak of a mysterious disease called "koro" which caused the victim's penis to curl up and disappear inside the body. This could be prevented by tying a piece of string round the threatened member and knotting the other end to one's belt. This epidemic was almost entirely fictitious but news of it swept through the colony, enthusiastically encouraged by Sinclair and his colleagues at The Star. Sinclair wrote "Hospital emergency wards were packed as lines of anxious men, many of them holding tell-tale lengths of string disappearing into their trousers, waited for examinations."

The story was, of course, too good to last and before long Sinclair and his fellow-scribes went back to reporting such mundane matters as "men on the moon, the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, Hong Kong's booming economy, bizarre new labour laws that insisted on workers having one day off a week and run-of-the-mill rapes, murders and bank robberies".

The koro story was largely a fabrication to liven a slow news day. On the other hand it was such a good yarn that if it hadn't existed you would have had to invent it. The same could, with some justice, be said of Sinclair himself.

Tim Heald

Kevin Sinclair, writer and journalist: born 12 December 1942; married (one son, one daughter); died Hong Kong 23 December 2007.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

**Primary Teachers Needed Urgently in Southport**

£80 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: **Due to an increase in dema...

SEN Teaching Assistant Runcorn

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant EBD , Septemb...

Nursery Assistant/Nurse all cheshire areas

£7 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: We are a large and successful recrui...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£50 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: SEN Teaching Assistant We are curr...

Day In a Page

Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London