Hong Kong of the 1960s and 1970s was a curious cocktail of booming economic growth, bubbling rebellion tempered by failure of Mao’s epic experiments and the conflict that was playing out in Vietnam. Likewise 1989 saw a much different Hong Kong where it was on its countdown to a Handover, scheduled for 1997. The colonial character was still there, but the place had already begun it process of repatriation. Though protest was in the air in both circumstances, one is overwhelmed by the economic force that was blowing through the world at both times, whereby rich western states exploited cheap Asian labour. By 2011 when the protagonists return, they find a very different place. Their romantic notions of the colony are swept away by its modern energy
Chinese politics in the seventies was coming to terms with the need to adjust its economic model. In many respects communism was morally bankrupt, allowing the few to sit above the misery of the mass. Change was in the air and the earthquake in 1976 seemed to portend this change.
Our story starts in 1963, following Jude’s arrival in the British colony, Hong Kong. He joins the bank that his father and grandfather worked at. His aim is to seek a conventional life, but this objective is short-lived as he is drawn into the colony’s intrigue. It is soon apparent that his notion, that he is a veteran and therefore able to master its ebb and flow, is without foundation. Instead, he finds himself pulled along in a flood without control. Despite this, Jude finds himself floating, ironically pursuing a career in water. In his personal life, he embarks upon a doomed affair with Em who proves to affect him far deeply than he would concede at the time.
We see this through the looking glass, for Jude and Jeremy are visiting Hong Kong many years later, both having different views of how the colony affected their lives. Jude looks back at his bitterness on losing Em whereas Jeremy looks back, knowing that there could have been more had he stayed. Both are in agreement that Hong Kong was an extraordinary place and still is despite its more sterile modern version.
We are presented a country where modernity has wiped much romance away, leaving behind a country where its people have neglected its philosophy and monuments in pursuit of economic success. In Hong Kong, Beijing and Shanghai, they find a country whose persona is demonstrated through towers of concrete and steel, neglecting the Banyan and Tao thinking.