by Jonathan Chamberlain
Blacksmith Books HK$140
If nothing else Jonathan Chamberlain has proved it is not impossible to put together a book on Chinese gods. This was apparently the conclusion of a journalist who, decades ago, had been asked to do the same. For mundane reasons outlined in the preface, however, Chinese Gods has taken a quarter of a century to reach Hong Kong. In its latest incarnation the book includes a reprint of an essay by the author about the Cheung Chau Bun Festival, an event that dates to 1894 when plague hit its shores. A much later incident could have wiped all western residents off the island. According to Chamberlain, a social anthropologist, in 1976 a drunk European who won the scramble to reach the top of the bun towers - the festival's highlight - caused such outrage he endangered the residency rights of other foreigners on the isle. Never mind that the race was a symbolic battle among triad groups. Stories such as this give Chinese Gods a non-academic air and help ease newcomers through the multifaceted study of Chinese folk religion. Those who want to learn more about a particular god can head straight for the second half and look up the deity in question.