Hong Kong has always been the source of inspiration for writers, poets, and other artists. Both inborn and visiting authors have dedicated their works to this city, admiring its natural beauty and narrating the stories of their first impressions (Sun; Wise).1 A series of short stories and excerpts of those who visited Hong Kong in the first half of the twentieth century was collected in a special issue of a Chinese-English translation magazine “Renditions” published in 1988 that included happy and sad memories of several writers’ visits to Hong Kong. Such authors as Ai Wu (59-62), Lu Xun2 (47-53), Hu Shi (45-46), and others shared their love for the city as well as personal issues that worried them at that time. The paper analyzes the narrations of Ai Wu and Hu Shi, paying particular attention to their perceptions of Hong Kong, relationships with the citizens, and the role of the setting in their stories.
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“One Night in Hong Kong” by Ai Wu: Setting, Theme, Structure, and Characters
Wu’s story about his visit to Hong Kong is depicted as a process of almost reaching a dream (29). The author mentions that he had always wanted to visit Hong Kong, and finally, he received such an opportunity. However, the dream of seeing the city’s beauty did not have a chance to come true. Because Wu was a political prisoner, he was not allowed to walk around Hong Kong. He and other political prisoners spent the night in the police station, the conditions in which were quite dissimilar to pleasant ones (Wu 60). Thus, the theme of the story is the tragedy of being close to fulfilling one’s lifelong endeavor but being deprived of the opportunity to do so. The story is set in Hong Kong in the first half of the twentieth century.
The narration is in the first person. The author depicts his personal feelings and emotions associated with staying in the police office and the unpleasant things he encounters there. Other characters in the story are the people who found themselves in the same situation as the author and several police officers. In particular, Wu mentions having a conversation with an Indian guard and an Indian policeman (62). The structure of the story is typical of such a genre. There is an introduction, plot, climax, denouement, and a conclusion. The introduction and conclusion are connected by the theme of sorrow and disappointment. In both of these parts, Wu admires the beauty of Hong Kong and expresses sadness and anger due to not having been able to see the city of his dreams. The climax of the story is the part when Wu thinks about the fate of unemployed laborers he has met in prison (61). He asks a rhetorical question, “Is it a crime to be unemployed?” (Wu 61). The denouement of the narration is the description of the morning on which Wu was taken back to a ship. Both authors employ the most exquisite descriptions of Hong Kong’s charm, but only one of them is able to perceive the beauty with his own eyes. For the other one, the city’s attractiveness remains an unattainable dream.
“Hong Kong: Excerpts” by Hu Shi: Theme, Setting, Characters, and Structure
In his story, Shi describes the time he spent in Hong Kong when he came there to give several lectures at Hong Kong University (45). Unlike Wu’s narration, Shi’s experience is rather pleasant, and he is fully capable of observing the beauty of the city and admiring its nature. The central theme of Shi’s short depiction is his perception of Hong Kong, the description of nature, and the author’s sincere astonishment at local people’s inability to realize how lucky they are to be living in such surroundings.
The story is being told in the first person. Shi shares his personal observations and thoughts of the city and its people. He mentions that they are “quite considerate” because they scheduled his lectures in a way that was most comfortable for him (45). There is no direct speech in the story, but Shi mentions communicating with the University dean and vice-chancellor, as well as listeners of his lectures.
The story is set in Hong Kong in the first half of the twentieth century. The author employs detailed descriptions of the city’s nature and the places he visits. The structure of the narration is rather simple, but it is not surprising if one considers the brevity of the piece. Thus, there is no introduction or conclusion. The major part of the two-page story is taken by the plot. It is possible to define a climax and a denouement. The climax is in the place when Shi describes the surprise of the people when he has told them that poets and artists should “eulogize” the city’s charm (46). The denouement is mentioning that in several weeks, he found out about publishing a pamphlet depicting the “beauty of the local scenery” (Shi 46).
The Role of Hong Kong Setting in the Stories
Although the two stories under analysis are quite different in terms of narrators’ social position and the circumstances under which they appear in Hong Kong, the role of the city’s setting is highly important in both of them. In Shi’s story, the setting is used to depict the cultural life in Hong Kong. The author mentions the university and dwells on the process of lecturing there (Shi 45). Also, he makes some remarks about the citizens’ treatment of strangers and respect to visitors’ traditions. With the help of the setting, Shi also manages to draw the audience’s attention to the problem of taking things for granted (46). Shi mentions that the people became so accustomed to Hong Kong that they “had grown tired of it” (46). By pointing this thing out, the author makes readers analyze their treatment of their own surroundings and inspires them to think of what they are doing to make their place of living better and more prosperous rather than merely taking it for granted.
In Wu’s story, the setting is used as a means of reaching a dream and failing to fulfill one’s greatest desire. In the introductory and concluding parts, the author describes in detail how he adores the city and how much he would like to be allowed to watch its beauty. Unfortunately, he is ruthlessly deprived of such an opportunity. Thus, the setting plays the role of the desired destination and, simultaneously, of the biggest disappointment.
Stylistic Analysis of the Two Stories
The length of the two pieces is rather different, but both authors managed to incorporate many stylistic devices to make their narrations more vivid and to attract the audience’s attention as much as possible. It is necessary to remark the rich use of metaphors in Wu’s work: China is “a loving mother,” and Hong Kong is “her young daughter,” a “gorgeous young lady,” and a “bejewelled debutante” (60). Another set of metaphors is employed when the author compares the life of prisoners to that of birds or fish: if the “cage” were opened for them, they would “spread their wings” and “fly up to the sky of freedom”; if they were set free as fish, they would “flap” their “fins” and swim to the “boundless sea” of freedom (Wu 60). Other cases of metaphors in Wu’s story are “the abyss of misery” (60) and “digging a deep grave for British imperialism” (62). Both Wu and Shi employ similes in their narrations: “like the shadow of a ghost” (Wu 60), “like stars in the sky” (Shi 45), and “looked upon Hong Kong as a market” (Shi 46).
Both Shi and Wu make their stories rich in poetic words and epithets. Most frequently, these devices are employed to show authors’ love for the city and its nature. Some of them are used to depict the beauty of other things and places. When Wu shares his likes with readers, he remarks that he enjoys “the vast blue sea” and “luxuriant mountain ranges” (60). The day of his arrival to Hong Kong is depicted as “drizzly” (Wu 60), and the goodbye is described as leaving “beloved Hong Kong” (Wu 62). Once, an epithet is even used when talking about the politic regime: “the sinister designs of the English imperialists” (Wu 62). Despite being much shorter, Shi’s story is also full of exuberant descriptions of nature. The bay and the islands are “magnificent,” there is “a profusion of gorgeous flowers,” and the picture of the sun setting over the sea is “peaceful and beautiful” (Shi 45). There is “beautiful scenery” that is considered as “quite stunning,” and once, the author was able to notice “a thin mist” (Shi 46). Probably the most poetic word was employed when Shi was trying to explain to the people that they did not value their surroundings appropriately: he said they should “eulogize” their city’s nature (46).
What is peculiar about Wu’s writing style is the use of irony. Probably, Shi does not use any because he does not have to: his stay in Hong Kong is truly pleasant, and there is no need for him to employ sarcastic notes when describing his experience. Wu, who has not received the welcome he had always wanted, depicts his impressions through the prism of scorn and irony. At the beginning of the story, he mentions that he “became the recipient of special treatment,” stayed in a “government courtesy hotel,” and “enjoyed… hospitality” (Wu 59). By these phrases, Wu indicates prison and the dreadful conditions in which he was kept there.
Another case of irony borders with meiosis: Wu mentions that the police station “was about as comfortable as a pigsty” (60). One more feature pertaining only to Wu’s story is the use of barbarism” he mentions that Hindustani is “the lingua franca of India” (62). Also, there is an instance of inversion in Wu’s story: “This I will never forget” (62). One more stylistic device employed by this author is rhetorical question: “Is it a crime to be unemployed” (Wu 61). The reasons why Wu has included a diversity of devices are concerned with the length of his story and its theme. Because his stay in Hong Kong was rather sorrowful and highly disappointing, he uses such stylistic devices as irony, rhetorical questions, and inversion to emphasize his feelings of sadness and anger. Therefore, despite these few instances, both authors should be noted for their use of epithets, similes, metaphors, and poetic words o depict the beauty of Hong Kong and express their admiration of the city.
Hu Shi’s “Hong Kong: Excerpts” and Ai Wu’s “One Night in Hong Kong” are the stories of love to Hong Kong. Although both authors’ stories of getting acquainted with Hong Kong are quite dissimilar, they both express awe and love for the city the nature and beauty of which has occupied a special place in their hearts. Many writers and poets have devoted literary works to Hong Kong, but Shi and Wu included in their descriptions sincere thoughts, no matter how bitter they might have been at times. The setting of Hong Kong plays a significant part in both narrations. One of the authors admires the scenery on a daily basis, and the other one only dreams of seeing it with his own eyes some day. The stories are rich in epithets, poetic words, metaphors, and other stylistic devices that demonstrate the writers’ artistry and make it much easier for the readers to imagine the picture described verbally. Thus, it is possible to consider Ai Wu’s “One Night in Hong Kong” and Hu Shi’s “Hong Kong: Excerpts” as a significant contribution to the history of literature in general and the depiction of Hong Kong in particular.
- To read more works of the authors who traveled to Hong Kong, see Wise. To find out about the contemporary Hong Kong authors, see Charlotte.
- A story by Xun, along with Shi’s and Wu’s stories, is a part of Renditions‘ special edition on Hong Kong.
Shi, Hu. “Hong Kong: Excerpts.” Renditions, vol. 29-30, 1988, pp. 45-46.
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Sun, Charlotte. “Ten Notable Hong Kong Authors You Should Read.” The Culture Trip, 26 Dec. 2016, theculturetrip.com/asia/hong-kong/articles/the-top-10-most-notable-hong-kong-authors/. Accessed 14 Mar. 2018.
Wise, Michael, editor. Travellers’ Tales of Hong Kong, Canton & Macao. Facsimile ed., Marshall Cavendish Editions, 2013.
Wu, Ai. “One Night in Hong Kong.” Renditions, vol. 29-30, 1988, pp. 59-62.
Xun, Lu. “On Hong Kong.” Renditions, vol. 29-30, 1988, pp. 47-53.