Holding Out in Hong Kong

Kowloon Tong

by Paul Theroux
Houghton Mifflin, 243 pp., $23.00

Hong Kong Remembers

by Sally Blyth and Ian Wotherspoon, Introduction by the Rt. Honorable the Baroness Thatcher
Oxford University Press, 285 pp., $39.95

Red Flag over Hong Kong

by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, by David Newman, by Alvin Rabushka
Chatham House, 196 pp., $17.95 (paper)

The Hong Kong Advantage

by Michael J. Enright, by Edith E. Scott, by David Dodwell
Oxford University Press, 352 pp., $29.95

The Master said: “If seeking wealth were a decent pursuit, I too would seek it, even if I had to work as a janitor. As it is, I’d rather follow my inclinations.”

—Confucius: Analects

Flicking through the April issue of the Hong Kong Tatler, a glossy high life magazine modeled after the London Tatler, I was reminded of a story I once heard about the Rothschild house in Paris. When Victor Rothschild visited the Avenue de Marigny in 1944, to see what was left of his cousin’s mansion after four years of German occupation, he found not only Baron Robert’s old butler, Felix, on the premises, but also a fat guestbook kept by the Luftwaffe officers to record their social life. He saw to his consternation that their French guests were exactly the same people whom the Rothschilds had entertained before the war.

The Hong Kong Tatler celebrates connections, or guanxi in Chinese. There, between ads for choice London real estate and jeweled Swiss watches, were the same smiling faces I had seen in the Hong Kong gossip press before, often in the presence of British grandees—rich, rather overdressed people with names like Pansy Ho, Oscar Chow, Ambrose So, Charmaine Koo, and Ruby Wong. But something had changed. Gone were most of the British grandees. The new faces, grinning furiously above their Italian ties, included instead the likes of Zhou Nan, the highest Chinese official in Hong Kong. Zhou was an interrogator of American POWs during the Korean War. He is now the head of Xinhua, or the New China News Agency, the de facto Chinese embassy, and one of the toughest (and some say nastiest) negotiators during the transition of Hong Kong from a British colony to a Special Administrative Region of China.

It is but one sign of the Hong Kong business elite adapting to a shift in the wind. There are others. Hong Kong Tatlerites who spent much of their lives ingratiating themselves with the British now run to Beijing for patronage, and sometimes drop their titles on the way. Sir Sze-Yuen Chung was a British-educated businessman and trusted official in the colonial administration. “Sir S.Y.” has made many appearances in the Hong Kong Tatler. In the early 1980s he argued fervently in London for the continuation of British rule in Hong Kong. He used to serve as an official advisor to British governors. Now he is on two committees appointed by Beijing to prepare for Chinese sovereignty. When the future Chief Executive, selected by Beijing, announced that Chung would act as his councilor too, the “Sir” was quietly dropped from Chung’s name.

Dropping British airs is no bad thing, of course; in fact, it is some-thing of a relief. But the adoption of Chinese airs in their place often brings a new form of humbug. The giggly trendsetter of Hong Kong’s neo-Chinoiserie is a shrewd businessman (and habitual Hong Kong Tatlerite) named David Tang. Known as “Tango” to …

This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:

Print Premium Subscription — $94.95

Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.

Online Subscription — $69.00

Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.

If you already have one of these subscriptions, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account. If you subscribe to the print edition, you may also need to link your web site account to your print subscription. Click here to link your account services.