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Hong Kong, Criminal City That Knows No Night

30 August 2017

From The Literary Hub:

Hong Kong—the “Fragrant Harbor” or the “Barren Rock”? The Cantonese named it the former; the early British colonialists in the mid-19th century the latter. Captured by the Royal Navy after the First Opium War (1839-1842) and politically cauterized from the mainland of China by a most unequal treaty signed in the face of British gunboats. Hong Kong Island was to be England’s in perpetuity, with Kowloon and the New Territories (that are essentially part of the Chinese mainland) leased for 99 years. In 1997 those 99 years came to an end, Britain surrendered the territory in the “Handover,” and Hong Kong reverted to Chinese control becoming a “Special Administrative Region” of the People’s Republic.

One of the most densely populated cities in the world, stunning banks of high rises surround a harbor above which rises the Peak, once home to only the most senior of Colonial officials and now only the wealthiest of tycoons. Across Victoria Harbor, Kowloon is raucous, always busy and thanks to the city’s obsession with neon, never dark as you pass through Tsim Sha Tsui, Yau Ma Tei, Mong Kok and Kowloon’s other districts. Away from the hustle and bustle the islands of Lantau, Lamma and dozens of smaller oases have beaches and coves to explore, while the more sparsely populated New Territories extend to the border with mainland China at Lo Wu.

The quintessential Hong Kong of densely packed streets and the rhythmic cacophony of Cantonese contrasting with verdant islands and unexpected countryside is perhaps best captured in John le Carré’s sole Asian outing, The Honourable Schoolboy (1977). The Hong Kong weather “burns hot and clear and breathless” as Jerry Westerby wanders from the legendary Foreign Correspondents’ Club to his safe house on Cloudview Road in down-at-heel North Point. Le Carré, as ever, hits all the marks—the FCC, the American Club, snobby cocktail parties, the “Peak Mafia” of HSBC bankers, the Governor, senior military commanders, ruddy-faced club stewards and the odd resident OBEs and CBEs of the British community trading on past glories. Then down to noodles in the backstreets of Kennedy Town and compromising indiscretions in the Girly Bars of Wan Chai. The novel still stands as perhaps the most intricate description of post-war colonial Hong Kong in literature.

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Things get really murky in Hong Kong crime after the Handover in 1997. Christopher West’s 1999 Death of a Red Mandarin sees Inspector Wang of Beijing’s Public Security Bureau despatched south to ascertain just how a senior Communist Party official ended up a handcuffed corpse, floating in Hong Kong harbor. Wang is faced with the most politically sensitive of cases—the official’s body is hauled out of the water on the eve of the Handover. West has also written several other policiers featuring Chinese cop Inspector (Second Class) Bao Zheng, set in Beijing and well worth reading.

Link to the rest at The Literary Hub

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One Comments to “Hong Kong, Criminal City That Knows No Night”

  1. Just a quick question for those who know the genre far better than I – is “policiers” the new word for what I am used to calling “police procedurals?” Or are they a different sub-genre?

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