Musings: Reading Hong Kong, China, and the World

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 December, 2011, 12:00am


Musings: Reading Hong Kong, China, and the World
by Leo Lee Ou-fan
East Slope Publishing

This interesting book comprises book reviews and opinion pieces on local culture that author Leo Lee Ou-fan, professor emeritus of Chinese Literature at Harvard University and a prolific local cultural critic, contributed to the short-lived local cultural magazine Muse.

The essays fit loosely into four categories, which the author has adopted as chapter titles: 'In Search of a Hong Kong Mythology', 'Chinese Cosmopolitans', 'Reading the World', and 'Reflections on My Column-Writing'.

Suffice to say that the essays are all engagingly written in Lee's characteristic style - endearingly idiomatic English that occasionally betrays his Chinese identity. My only reservation about the book lies in its inclusion of an exchange between the author and a reader, which seems a tad trivial.

Lee's target audience are 'those with a bilingual or English background who are generally interested in reading books and are concerned with cultural matters'.

Indeed, certain references and subjects may strike readers unfamiliar with Hong Kong culture as opaque and irrelevant (for instance, the review of the Chinese opus Postcolonial Affairs of Food and the Heart by local writer Ya Si (the pen-name of Lingnan University professor Leung Ping-Kwan). Given Lee's depiction of the city's reading culture, prospects of the book's readership appear slim. But should they be?

The book offers not only a self-proclaimed Chinese cosmopolitan's view on contemporary local and world literature, but also insights into the cultural and literary scene - the backbone of European and North American culture - in 'Asia's world city' that gives rise to the book. George Orwell didn't write Nineteen Eighty-Four with an Oriental audience in mind, yet modern readers on these shores, including the author, now find it valuable to discuss the work's historical background and contemporary significance.

As the world turns its attention to 'emerging' Asia, so shall this volume be of general interest to readers worldwide who want to understand Hong Kong culture.