- Hong Kong in the Cold War ed. by Priscilla Roberts and John M. Carroll
The Cold War caught my interest, as a disciple of Hong Kong popular culture research, through its sprawling influence in the Hong Kong film industry: the values disseminated from film works, the activities of film professionals, as well as the larger distribution networks of the whole industry. While efforts by the Hong Kong Film Archive (e.g., the 2009 Chinese book The Cold War and Hong Kong Cinema) unveil the multifaceted Cold War through enchanting personal stories and their social encounters, the latest Hong Kong publication—Hong Kong in the Cold War—significantly contributes to my knowledge and understanding through unfolding the intricate yet fascinating landscape canvas of politics, economy, sociocultural change, and their dynamic global connections.
We can never view the Cold War only as a "war" of political powers. On the contrary, the Cold War ranged from world politics to everyday life, and marked a special period of popular politics in postwar Hong Kong, as Priscilla Roberts conveys in the prologue: to put high-level international politics and diplomacy in the context of popular attitudes within Hong Kong (p. 16).
After the Sino-Japanese War, the globe was divided into two worlds. "Globalization" took place across the Pacific with monetary and human resources coming from the United States to support part of China—first in Nanking and then in Taipei. An enormous scale of migration characterized the years after 1945, and in this process, Hong Kong, the British colony in the neighborhood of mainland China, stepped onto the front lines to receive flows of money and human bodies from all directions. It was not until the 2000s that the Cold War and its crucial impact on contemporary Hong Kong became acknowledged and reassessed by academia.
In Wang Gungwu's introductory chapter, he positions Hong Kong as "a window through which the West could monitor what was happening and a conduit that China could use to reach out and keep in touch with [End Page 155] the outside world … a convenient meeting place for all those who wanted to be more actively engaged with one another" (p. 5). Instead of being a watchtower in an empty ocean, Hong Kong actually was an oasis of postwar flourishing, economically, intellectually, socially, and culturally. In Priscilla Roberts's words, the Cold War age was "crucial in ensuring that Hong Kong became a unique and cosmopolitan metropolis" (p. 15).
In this book, chapter by chapter, scholars unveil fragments of these processes. David Meyer, in Chapter 2, articulates two major factors that contribute to the consolidation of Hong Kong's vital role as a meeting place of capital and a decision-making management center: the quick recovery of the foreign and local banking system and the efficient industrial graft between the south-bound and local entrepreneurs (e.g., textile manufacture).
"Hong Kong exemplified the saying that the true mark of high intelligence is the ability to hold two conflicting beliefs at the same time" (p. 23). Priscilla Roberts, in the first chapter, illustrates the juggling opposing forces that coexisted in Hong Kong and let the territory survive as a British colony through two significant wars—the Korean War and the Vietnam War. While huge monetary flows flooded into Hong Kong when the US Navy ported here, the mainland Chinese government turned a blind eye to British rule in Hong Kong, even though theoretically the British were in coalition with the United States. Unlike other frontline cities such as Berlin, Hong Kong was never physically divided given that conflicting ideological forces and identities characterized the city. Despite such chaos, the British government attempted to strike a balance while swinging between two worlds in the Cold War. Tracy Steele, in Chapter 3, depicts the British "schizophrenic" character.
In the cultural arena, the battle was equally enchanting. Lu Xun, in Chapter 4, sheds lights on the intelligence and propaganda war played by the Americans. As similarly colorful as...