"Until the Next Century" the end of a 40-year secret affair, but was it love?
"Insignificant Moments in the History of Hong Kong" July 1997, the "handover" to China
"Blackjack" gambling on the future under China
"Manky’s Tale" during Tiananmen, will a dying father forgive his jazz musician son?
"The Fourth Copy or Dancing with Skeletons and Other Romances" a modern day Chinese ghost story
"Rage" just that
"Allegro Quasi Una Fantasia" the beginnings of "a maybe star is born" between a Chinese classical pianist and aFrench singer
"The Tryst" U.S. foreign correspondents (all boys) are posted to China post Carter’s visit so boy sends girl to another boy and an unexpected tryst
"Dannemora" prison is freedom compared to a colonial marriage
"The Yellow Line" a subway opens, a child's imagination leaps
"Andrew’s Letters" coming of age for a girl who discovers Mother knows far less than best
"Chung King Mansion" when girls pretend to be grown ups because the U.S. navy’s in town
"Democracy" a Hong Kong history lesson
When the idea for this collection first began to gel some three years earlier, I had an unexpected creative experience. A title for the book emerged in Cantonese. At first I dismissed it, because I do not write fiction in Chinese. Although my voices speak in multiple dialects and accents, my literary “job” has been and always will be to render them in English.
Yet I could not shake the phrase. So I wrote it out, tacked it on my bulletin board, and left it there.
Heunggong yahn dik duen liksi.
It became an idée fixé. All instincts told me it was what I was trying to say. What I wasn’t sure of was its resonance.
Tentatively, almost a little fearfully, I finally decided to ask a “typical Hong Kong Chinese,” if indeed such a being exists. Over yum cha with my friend, the poet Leung Ping-kwan who writes in both Chinese and English, I uttered the phrase. A spark ignited in his eyes and I knew, right then, the true and most important reason for this collection.
Its literal translation, “Hong Kong people’s short history,” does not do it justice, which was why the English title took another year to evolve. I speak to our city’s history, through fiction, against the backdrop of events that marked the recent decades. What I needed to articulate was the peculiar nature of history for us because we were Hong Kong people, while still recognizing the universal quality of our feelings.
I eventually said the final title to another “typical” Hong Kong person, my Sri Lankan publisher Nury Vittachi, who writes only in English, although he has been known, like me, to sneak in “Chinglish” and Cantonese as well. His answer was music in any language: yes.
History, according to one definition, is that which is not of current concern. If that were its only meaning, this collection could not exist. I prefer the idea of history as narrative, as a chronicle of development.
As a writer, I like to believe I can and will evolve. What I published in the seventies differs from later work. However, the concerns of the past remain current, regardless of when a story is written.
What follows here are stories “from the city of Hong Kong,” a city that remains my perpetual concern. Time and place do not define it, although moments of its history do. 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 this collection, I looked through my fiction written over the years and saw two recurrent themes in the works that referenced my birthplace. First was an obsession with the private space of lives, how people love, despair, rejoice, confront, deny, regret, define and re-define personal existence within the boundaries of, and from a connection to, Hong Kong. The second was the intrusive quality of history in the making, most notably, the “handover.”
What became clear, in thinking about all my stories, was that historical events, whether local or larger especially vis á vis China, invaded all these private lives. Grey U.S. battleships color the harbor during the Vietnam War and prostitutes dye their hair orange. During the late seventies, bomb scares delay flights from Manila to Hong Kong but a woman waits till the eighties to explode. When China draws open the bamboo curtain, foreign correspondents fall in a “sort of” love with their brand of “Suzie Wongs.” Meanwhile, “Tiananmen” enters our language to mean something more than the place it names. And the long awaited “millennium moment” marks the end of a longer affair, quietly, without fuss, the way history cannot.
Hence, History’s Fiction, which emerged through these stories and others over some thirty years, selectively collected, and titled in two of our “native tongues,” in order to savor, again, the taste of summer wine in Hong Kong, the city that won’t let me go.
Xu Xi (February, 2001 Orlando, Florida)
Copyright © 2001 Xu Xi (aka S. Komala)