Everyday life in Hong Kong, and elsewhere in treaty port-era China, has inspired writers since its mid-19th century beginnings. Doggerel verse – of varying standards – was always the most popular poetry form. This mode allowed more profound observations and emotional truths some safe expression; higher sentiments openly displayed, in resolutely mercantile societies, were often defensively dismissed. Doggerel appealed to the local readership. The generally lighthearted verses were easy to remember and repeat without much effort at a dinner table, golf match, launch party or around the club bar. Gently humorous without sounding too clever or sharp-edged, heartfelt emotion could also be intermittently expressed, without the risk of being “wet”. Talented writers within this genre came and went, but one of the most popular was Shamus A’Rabbitt, the nom de plume of James Aloysius Rabbitt (1877-1969), an American mining engineer who spent decades in China and Japan. As with other doggerel poets, Rudyard Kipling was an evident influence on Rabbitt’s rhythm and metre. Ballads of the East (1937) and China Coast Ballads (1938) were bestselling compilations of Rabbitt’s verse, although most poems had already appeared in The China Mail , Japan Times , South China Morning Post and other regional newspapers and periodicals. Without a published compendium, most of these poems – like other daily journalism around the world – would have disappeared soon after publication, along with their author. Various China coast locations found themselves the subject of his pen, and Hong Kong features regularly. The Mystic City (1938) is one example. Here all the stars of heaven Are nestled on the waters Beneath the sparkling canopy of night – A thousand brilliant avenues Come flickering as a welcome – It is the mystic city that we sight. As mistress of old Neptune, She sits upon the ocean – The goddess of the world her sages plan – Her head within the heavens Her feet to stem the tide – She watches o’er the destiny of man. Her bosom it has nurtured From birth to hardy childhood An Eastern and a Western race’s son – She’s wed their art and science Cementing an alliance – A glory to the ages – stands Hongkong. Both books sold surprisingly well even though their target readership was also those not-so-gently parodied in Rabbitt’s verse. Commonplace aspects of Far Eastern life were summed up in a few lines – the author clearly knew of what he wrote – and the poems’ enduring popularity undoubtedly came from their readers’ gasps of recognition of their times, places, circumstances, and most particularly, of themselves. Cancel culture – that sour bane of contemporary life – had not been invented and most people were prepared to accept an occasional dig, as long as the jibe remained recognisably funny, and reasonably fair. Both volumes were illustrated by the White Russian artist Sapajou. Born Georgii Sapojnikoff, Sapajou was a prolific illustrator and cartoonist for various (mostly Shanghai-based) newspapers and periodicals throughout the 1930s and 40s. His main claim to fame was as the political cartoonist for the North China Daily News , in Shanghai, and he was a sought-out illustrator. Like A’Rabbitt, Sapajou – which means capuchin or spider monkey – could accurately sum up, with a few brief pen strokes, a situation or individual to hilarious effect. Rabbitt eventually left Asia and he died in the United States Virgin Islands, aged 92, in 1969. Like all White Russians, Sapajou’s life was a series of escapes from the spread of international communism. He decamped from Shanghai, and eventually died in Manila, an émigré to the last, in 1949.