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Hong Kong (Vintage Departures) Paperback – 4 Feb 1997

4.3 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Paperback, 4 Feb 1997
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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books; Vintage Departures Ed edition (4 Feb. 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679776486
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679776482
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 1.8 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 228,382 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

Book Description

Hong Kong: Epilogue to an Empire by Jan Morris - one of the world's pre-eminent travel writers - depicts the city of Hong Kong in 1988, tragically suspended between a colonial past and the uncertainties of China's future. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Back Cover

Combining firsthand reportage with exemplary research, Morris takes readers from Hong Kong's clamorous back alleys to the luxurious Happy Valley racecourse, where taipans place their bets between sips of champagne and bird's nest soup. Morris chronicles the exploits of traders, pirates, colonists, financiers, and shows how their descendants view the prospect of reunification with the Chinese mainland. What emerges is an epic tableau, vastly informed and pungently evocative.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I read and re-read this book while living in Hong Kong in the 90's, both before and after the end of British rule. Through it I learned of mnay fascinating parts of the place far away from the overcrowded urban areas - for example, the wonderful hills of the northern New Territories, full of trails put down in British days and full, too, of beauty and history. There are a thousand wonderful anecdotes in this book.
The description of expats is very good, surprisingly accurate when at its most funny, too - some expats do not appreciate such bluntness!
There is also a wonderful, very moving account of the millions of Chinese refugees who fled China just in the last several decades to make up the population of today. This is a very sad tale, well told, and helped me understand much of the unpleasant behaviour I encountered on the streets and in the crowds that didn't make sense (or make for tolerance) until I had read this account - I had a far better appreciation for the place after reading this. If you plan to visit/live in Hong Kong, do take this book along. The whole refugee story is very painful (understandably) for Hong Kong Chinese to talk about (it causes loss of "face" to do so), and you will not hear much about it in post-Handover Hong Kong, but a knowledge of it is essential for understanding the place. Despite the city's financial centre-status, most of its residents are poor, and most fled to the safety of British Hong Kong to work in sweat shops, which, tragedy of tragedies, made for an improvement in their lives.
I rank this book up with the other usually-mentioned Hong Kong classics: Timothy Mo's The Monkey King; Bo Yang's The Ugly Chinaman; Austin Coates' Myself A MAndarin and Paul Theroux's Kowloon Tong. All of these will give the Westerner a far better understanding of the place than any guidebook or Culture Shock!-tpe guide.
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Format: Paperback
Two lions made of bronze guard the entrance of the old Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank building on the Bund in Shanghai. One looks cross, the other one snarls. Their paws shine from the touch of thousands of hands. Many people hope that some of the lion's power - and some of the bank's wealth - will rub off on them. The two guards of good fortune even had names once. In the 19th century, the snarler was called Stephen, and the cross lion was called Stitt in honor of their resemblance to two senior managers at the bank's offices in Hong Kong.
This piece of trivia is part of the fun of reading Jan Morris's "Hong Kong: Epilogue to an Empire". As the subtitle suggests, the main focus of the book is on the British influence in Hong Kong. This is particularly evident in the four chapters that deal with selected periods of the history of Hong Kong: (1) the 1840s when Hong Kong was founded on a barren island as the base for British drug trafficking into China, (2) the 1880s when the colony and the British Empire were at the pinnacle of their power, (3) the 1920s when Shanghai began to eclipse the city, and (4) the 1940s when Hong Kong was occupied by the Japanese and later became the refuge for Chinese - many of them entrepreneurs from Shanghai - who fled the Communist revolution in China. The historical chapters are well-researched, and Morris enjoys elaborating on the quirks of the British in Hong Kong. The historical chapters are embedded in five chapters that take a more anecdotal look at the social, cultural, administrative, and economic aspects of life in Hong Kong. The chapter on administration is aptly named "Control Systems". Not surprisingly for Hong Kong, the most extensive and interesting chapter deals with business and the economy.
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Format: Hardcover
First of all, I greatly enjoyed this classic. Jan Morris is one of the English world's greatest travel writers and this book is a tour de force. It really gives one a sense of what colonial Hong Kong was like for the British, despite the somewhat disjointed approach obliged by its single volume format.

However, as I read the book I grew more and more concerned about its balance and what had been left out. For its first hundred years, Hong Kong basically survived on the opium trade, and what was known as the "pig trade," the trans-shipment of Chinese peasant workers to other areas of the British Empire. I kept waiting to hear about these activities that were so basic to the life of the colony, and its great companies, Jadines, Swires, etc., but Morris hardly touches on them. There was no mention of the "pig trade" at all, and as for opium, it basically revolved around descriptions of beautiful, highly polished, opium clippers racing off to somewhere on the China coast. Such analytical holes automatically bias any balanced analysis of the Hong Kong's history, and tend to confirm that Morris is regarded in many academic circles as "Urban History Lite."

As well, there is her description of Hong Kong's two basic cultures. Morris does a good job of describing the British in the colony with their inherent greed, conceit, and racism. I have studied colonialism in detail here in Canada, and also in the Caribbean, and the variety of racism found in the Far East seems to have been the worst. However, the Chinese which made up 96% of the population, remain throughout the book a mysterious, superstitious mass, stereotyped repeatedly as being cheerful, energetic, and ingenious. There is something suspicious about these repetitions, and my first thought was does Morris speak Chinese.
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