Hong Kong: The Classic Age by Peter Moss FormAsia Books HK$480 'History is ... bunk,' said Henry Ford, but he never owned a copy of Hong Kong: The Classic Age. The latest Peter Moss treatment of this particular corner of ex-empire contains much that might have stopped you bunking off history lessons had it functioned as a textbook. It is the sort of sumptuous treasure you might buy as a Christmas present and keep for yourself, thanks not least to its exemplary, gimlet-sharp photographic reproduction. Any 'faults' in that reproduction seem to stem almost exclusively from graininess in original plates, included here because of their historical significance. The significance is borne out by the text, although it never overpowers the pictures. Written in digestible chunks, it allows them room to breathe and, in many cases, almost to exchange a 'tableau mort' state for one of dynamism. The historical reel of The Classic Age may play exclusively in black and white, but it is no stretch to imagine its scenes in living Technicolor. The hundreds of frames featured are drawn from a formidable array of royal societies, libraries, galleries, publishers, private collections and newspapers. They include the familiar but still vaguely - and puzzlingly - obscure work of Hong Kong's Yau Leung and the groundbreaking studies of Scotland's John Thomson, perhaps the original photo-journalist. Some of the pictures can be bought individually at considerable mark-up in Stanley Market, but never tell their full story unless set in context, as here. Those pictures might also provoke a sigh of wistful - if spurious - regret for the passing of a Hong Kong never known, particularly the Victorian Hong Kong of colonnades, balustrades, arches, turrets and towers. Though mostly of a different era, the former territory's remaining heritage continues to fall to wrecking ball and pneumatic drill. The subtext of this volume betrays an irritation at government-mandated structural vandalism; so how much more potent might be the effect of a book such as this if its publication were allied to the agenda of a local preservation society? The book also begs the question, what is the classic age? In this instance, the amorphous term invokes the history of Hong Kong from before the arrival of the first passenger liners in the 1840s to 1997, when the gods rained on the handover parade. In stretching its canvas so broadly, The Classic Age asserts that 'classic' does not necessarily mean 'archaic'. Hence its laudable recognition of the likes of Tsim Sha Tsui Railway Station in 1978 (above), shortly before demolition. It might not have been the prettiest building but it was tangible proof of the realisation of a dream: that of linking Kowloon and Canton. Perhaps, like so much else, it is 'classic' in the sense that it no longer exists.