Jonathan Chamberlain has done history a great favour; filling in what for many a keen observer is a void in Hong Kong’s not-so-distant past.
In KING HUI, he preserves from the sands of time a story like no other; one that weaves its way through the Fragrant Harbour’s colourful colonial heritage; a rich tapestry as depicted by an aging ‘Peter’ Hui, a man that at one time owned all the opium in Hong Kong.
“. . . Scandal and corruption, drugs and pirates, triads and flower boats; the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong and the Communist takeover of Canton. Peter Hui was there. He knew everybody and saw everything. This is the real story of Hong Kong, told with the rich flavours of the street . . .”
How true the backcover blurb! But this story is so much more. It’s an invitation into the psyche of the Chinese mind. It’s where East accommodates West, then fellow East, then West again. It’s a rare insight into Hong Kong’s idiosyncratic culture and meteoric rise to become the trading capital of the world, as told, rather refreshingly, from the straight-talking perspective of a local witness and without an Orientalist agenda.
It’s the story of Peter Hui – revered kung fu fighter, slickly dressed entrepreneur, handsome womaniser, gambler, drinker; friend of the rich, the famous, the powerful . . . as well as the destitute, the deviant and the downright dangerous. But most of all it’s a touching story, told with candour and flavoured with nostalgia, from the heart of an endearing old man; one who no doubt realises he is not long left for this world and has a tale he believes should to be told . . .
. . . and when you’re compelled to read the last page of this book again and again as I was, head spinning with thoughts and emotions brought to bear by the life of someone you’ve never even met, you fully appreciate why Jonathan Chamberlain is best placed to tell it.
Chris Thrall is the author of Eating Smoke: One Man’s Descent into Drug Psychosis in Hong Kong’s Triad Heartland
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