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266 China Review International: Vol. 5, No. 1, Spring 1998 Barbara-Sue White, editor. Hong Kong: Somewhere between Heaven and Earth. Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1996. xviii, 278 pp. Paperback HK $135.00, isbn 0-19-587696-2. Since the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984 that restored China's sovereignty over Hong Kong on July 1, 1997, there has been a boom in publications , conferences, and exhibitions devoted to this vibrant Asian city, widely called the "Pearl of the Orient." But in the flood of books and articles that seek to explain this historic handover and its history, it is rare to see new information presented or novel ideas advanced. Barbara-Sue White's Hong Kong: Somewhere between Heaven and Earth, a recent addition to the ever growing list of studies, offers a new approach and a variety of new materials; however, it also has a number of shortcomings. White's book is an anthology of sixty extracts about Hong Kong, a collection ofletters, diaries, poems, speeches, reports, and short stories penned largely by foreign visitors who arrived in the colony at different times and recorded their impressions and feelings about this exciting city. The volume is divided into an introduction and ten sections, each of which represents a different period of Hong Kong's history. It begins with the Tang dynasty in the eighth century, when this tiny fishing village was still an "outpost ofthe celestial empire," and ends with the 1990s, when the British would soon lower the Union Jack in the prized colony, one of the last remnants of their vast empire. The author shows a keen eye for selecting distinctive pieces; she is also to be applauded for her success in unearthing rare and previously unpublished writings garnered from extensive research in archives and libraries in Hong Kong, Britain, and the United States. The anthology is fun to read on four counts. First, it is full of refreshing, personal voices; their chatty tone makes them seem as if their authors are engaging in a dialogue with us. Second, it chronicles the constant changes of a city bursting with high energy and boundless hope. Third, the extracts feature a host of colorful characters: from Queen Victoria to Hong Kong governors, from renowned authors to an American ship's doctor whose work took him accidentally to the colony, and from a British army chaplain who was also an irrepressible storyteller to POWs interned by the Japanese during World War II. Finally, the collection presents a multitude of arresting stories, including festivities at the Man-mo Temple on Hollywood Road, the police pursuit of gangsters and criminals, and© 1998 by University the hellish worlds of opium-smoking and child slavery. Some of the selections are ofHawai'i Pressespecially delightful to read, such as an enchanting poem by Sir Cecil Clementi, an intellectual governor of Hong Kong in the 1920s, who spoke fluent Chinese and whose elegant translation of Zhao Ziyong's Yue ou {Cantonese Love Songs) re- Reviews 267 mains a standard piece ofscholarship today. The information assembled here no doubt suggests that the best way to understand Hong Kong and its checkered history is through a close scrutiny ofprimary sources. Ironically, the major strength is also the primary weakness ofthe book. White's diverse range ofsources, or what she terms "a kaleidoscope of Hong Kong" (p. xv), is so eclectic that these sources render no coherent picture. The selected pieces often appear more like an assemblage of anecdotes and fleeting observations than as presenting a consistent theme. Altiiough interesting connections are occasionally suggested by the author (for example, "the vivacity and rapid pace of the colony," on p. xii), they are never sufficiently demonstrated or systematically delineated. The selections also appear uneven. They are long on Hong Kong's early history but short on its recent developments, especially in the crucial period after the Communist takeover in China in 1949 (only two of the total ten parts are devoted to diis phase), when Hong Kong's citizens began to develop a sense ofbelonging to the place, and the city gradually emerged as one ofworld's leading financial centers. Although White is wise in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 266-269
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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