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The Expression of “Hong Kong Obsession” in Xi Xi’s “Marvels of a Floating City” and Dung Kai Cheung’s “The Atlas: Archeology of an Imaginary City” Essay

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Updated: Jul 1st, 2021

Introduction

In their works, both Xi Xi and Dung Kai Cheung depict their love for Hong Kong by using a variety of techniques. Some of their approaches are similar whereas some are quite different. While both authors present their descriptions in fiction, Xi’s narration looks like a fairy tale whereas Kai Cheung’s stories sound as if they were taken from some historical almanac. The paper aims at identifying similarities and differences in Xi’s and Kai Cheung’s expression of their “Hong Kong obsession.” The most common and divergent features of authors’ writing style will be analyzed.

Common Features in Kai Cheung’s and Xi’s Writing

The first similarity in both stories is their fictitious character. Kai Cheung’s narration sounds more realistic than Xi’s, but it still is not void of some romantic and imaginary air. Kai Cheung describes in detail how places and streets received their names, and it seems that he gives his stories a mythical character. Xi describes real people and events, but the general presentation of Hong Kong is offered in an imaginary fashion. It is depicted as a floating city that hangs there “neither sinking nor rising.”1

However, irrespective of the choice of the level of imagery, both authors employ it, which gives their stories a peculiar character and arouses mixed feelings on the part of the reader. The combination of reality and fiction in narrations makes the stories more interesting to read and allows the audience to feel some romantic and adventurous notes.

The second common feature is the use of proper nouns. Both writers mention titles of places and names of people. Kai Cheung pays much attention to the description of streets and squares, such as Possession Street, Scandal Point, Aldrich Street, Central District, the Botanical Gardens, Queen’s Road, Sugar Street, Sycamore Street, Seven Sisters Road, and others.2 There is even a whole list of streets named after trees: “Pine Street, Oak Street, Beech Street, Elm Street, Ivy Street, Cherry Street, Maple Street, Willow Street, Poplar Street, Cedar Street.”3

The famous people mentioned by Kai Cheung are predominantly military men and some outstanding persons that contributed to the development of the city. The author speaks of the Emperor of the Qing Dynasty, Commodore Sir J. G. Bremer, the Health Officer J. A. Davidson, and Major Aldrich.4 The notorious persons in Xi’s writings are predominantly the people of art. He describes the works of such painters as Magritte, Botticelli, and Li Gonglin.5 There are no referrals to street names in Xi’s stories, although he describes the parts of Hong Kong in detail as well as the city in general.

Also, Xi and Kai Cheung refer to a variety of professions in their stories. In Kai Cheung’s “The Atlas,” much attention is paid to the profession of military men. The author starts with the explanation of the origin of Possession Street: it was “the British man-of-war” who was ordered to occupy the Island of Hong Kong.6 Further, such words related to the military profession are mentioned as “marines,” “squadron, “soldiers,” and “troops.”7 Xi’s mentioning of professions is less focused on the military, but still, he employs some terms related to war. There is a reference to “pirate ships”8 and “a knight” in his story.9

Other professions mentioned by Kai Cheung are entertainers, fortune-tellers, practitioners of herbal medicine10, sugar and coinage factory workers11, fisherman12, and even prostitutes.13 In Xi’s story, professions are mostly related to art and science. When describing the opportunities for people living in the floating city, Xi indirectly or directly mentions engineers, builders, drivers, doctors, inventors, psychologists, museum workers, and painters. 14 The variety of professions in both stories allows the reader to understand the predominant occupations of the people as well as trace the major achievements of the periods described.

Contrasting Elements in the Stories

The comparison of the two authors’ works has revealed some common features about them. However, there are also several elements peculiar to each narration that make the stories contrasting. The first of such characteristics is the time dimension. Kai Cheung describes past events whereas Xi dwells on the present happenings. It is even possible to speak of some features of futurism, taking into consideration that Xi describes a floating city that has never existed in the history of mankind. Thus, the choice of the time reference in the two stories is the first divergent feature between them. Kai Cheung makes numerous notes regarding dates.

He describes such episodes as the Opium War, the formal possession of Hong Kong, and a variety of military events that happened in 1842, 1845, 1866, 1874, and 1880.15 The author makes referrals to political and military leaders, and he draws connections between the present events and processes and historic occasions that led to them.

Meanwhile, Xi focuses on the most recent events and experiences associated with Hong Kong. The author describes the variety of possibilities that citizens have. He notes that they have created a “vibrant and prosperous metropolis” due to their hard work and “pioneering spirit.”16 The author emphasizes the numerous achievements of the people living in the floating city. Buildings, “each one taller than the next,” appear as quickly as one can only imagine17.

Flyovers “circle the air space” above the roads.18 “Centipede-like” trains “crawl underground.”19 Xi also draws attention to the breakthroughs in medicine and science: any citizen can have his or her kidney stones “shattered by laser beams,” and brain tumors are “diagnosed by scanning.”20 In addition, Xi remarks that the city has such attractions for curious minds as the Planetarium and the Ocean Park.21

Another difference between the two pieces is the authors’ attitude to the description of people’s social options. Kai Cheung only makes a brief reference to people’s choices of how to spend their leisure when he speaks of Sycamore Street. He remarks that the street was the opportunity for citizens to satisfy their desire for “peace and prosperity – poetry, singing, and dancing” as the activities “associated with the good times.”22 Meanwhile, Xi describes in detail not only how people can spend their leisure time but also their duties and responsibilities as the citizens of the floating city. For instance, there is a requirement to undergo a nine-year compulsory education.

Also, people can count on social security, pensions, and allowances for the disabled.23 The variety of entertainment choices is rich: it is possible to attend one of many art festivals and visit bookstores that hold literature from all parts of the world. Most of all, Xi emphasizes the freedom of speech and silence. He mentions that those who decide to remain silent “have absolute freedom to do so.”24

Another aspect that makes the two authors’ writing different is their choice of language. Kai Cheung makes several attempts to enrich his narration with poetic words. He uses metaphors (“mouth of the watercourse”25) and epithets (“ominous” word, “grandiose plan,” “invincible giant fortress,” “inestimable value”26). Also, he uses a few poetic versions of verbs: “enshrouded in mystery,” “venerated,”27 and “alleviate.”28 However, on the whole, Kai Cheung’s writing style does not relish literary language and poetic word combinations. What concerns Xi’s writing, he describes his floating city with all the possible passion and admiration he possibly has. The very start of the story sounds like a fairy tale: “Many, many years ago, on a fine, clear day” the city appeared “in full public gaze.”29

Xi uses such stylistic devices as metaphors, inversions, epithets, synonyms, and many others to make his story sound as majestic and magic as possible. Inversion is employed at the very beginning of the story: “Above it were the fluctuating layers of clouds,” and “below it the turbulent sea.”30 Xi uses many poetic words to enrich his narration: “incredible,” “terrifying,” “unremittingly,” “eternal sleep,” and “obscure legends”31 ” Also, Xi employs synonyms to make his story more exciting to read: the words “sway,” “swing,” and “rock” are used when speaking about wind, and the description of a dreamy character of the narration is emphasized by such a collection of synonyms as “miracle,” “illusion,” “fairy tale,” and “dream.”32 The magic of the story is further deepened by several allusions to Cinderella and the description of the fairy tale’s elements.

Another divergent feature in Kai Cheung’s and Xi’s writing is the presence or absence of the aspect of inspiration and hope. Kai Cheung’s story is more down-to-earth, it depicts such unromantic occasions as battles and prostitutes’ activity.33 Meanwhile, Xi incorporates the elements of hopefulness and encourages the reader to believe in the possibility of reaching his or her dreams. Xi remarks that living in the floating city requires “more than courage,” it demands “will-power and faith.”34 In his description of the citizens’ hardships associated with the impossibility to leave the city, Xi manages to inculcate the belief in a better future.

Conclusion

Xi Xi’s “Marvels of a Floating City” and Dung Kai Cheung’s “The Atlas: Archeology of an Imaginary City” have many divergences. The authors chose different time frames, and they depicted the events from different angles. The two stories have various amounts of magic and truth, and people and names are mentioned in them at a contrasting level. However, both narrations also have some elements in common, which makes it possible to compare them and find some similar features in the stories. Both Xi and Kai Cheung employ a great deal of imagery and poetic language. Both authors make direct and indirect references to Hong Kong.

Both writers remark the achievements in some spheres of people’s activity, such as military, scientific, or medical. Most of all, there is one common issue in both Xi’s and Kai Cheung’s stories that allows considering these authors’ writings under a common topic. It is obvious that Xi Xi and Dung Kai Cheung love Hong Kong, and although their narrations are not entirely similar, they are the representation of the authors’ “obsession” with Hong Kong.

Bibliography

Kai Cheung, Dung. “The Atlas: Archeology of an Imaginary City”: 40-52.

Xi, Xi. “Marvels of a Floating City”: 41-54.

Footnotes

  1. Xi Xi, “Marvels of a Floating City,” 41.
  2. Dung Kai Cheung, “The Atlas: Archeology of an Imaginary City,” 41-49.
  3. Kai Cheung, “The Atlas,” 49.
  4. Ibid., 41-44.
  5. Xi Xi, “Marvels of a Floating City,” 44-47.
  6. Kai Cheung, “The Atlas,” 41.
  7. Kai Cheung, “The Atlas,” 41.
  8. Xi Xi, “Marvels of a Floating City,” 41.
  9. Xi, “Marvels,” 42.
  10. Dung Kai Cheung, “The Atlas: Archeology of an Imaginary City,” 41.
  11. Kai Cheung, “The Atlas,” 47.
  12. Ibid., 48.
  13. Ibid., 42.
  14. Xi, “Marvels,” 42-49.
  15. Dung Kai Cheung, “The Atlas: Archeology of an Imaginary City,” 42-48.
  16. Xi Xi, “Marvels of a Floating City,” 42.
  17. Xi, “Marvels,” 42.
  18. Ibid., 42.
  19. Ibid., 42.
  20. Ibid., 42.
  21. Xi Xi, “Marvels of a Floating City,” 42.
  22. Dung Kai Cheung, “The Atlas: Archeology of an Imaginary City,” 49.
  23. Xi, “Marvels,” 42.
  24. Ibid., 42.
  25. Kai Cheung, “The Atlas,” 41.
  26. Dung Kai Cheung, “The Atlas: Archeology of an Imaginary City,” 42-48.
  27. Kai Cheung, “The Atlas,” 45.
  28. Ibid., 46.
  29. Xi Xi, “Marvels of a Floating City,” 41.
  30. Xi, “Marvels,” 41.
  31. Ibid., 41.
  32. Ibid., 42-45.
  33. Dung Kai Cheung, “The Atlas: Archeology of an Imaginary City,” 42-48.
  34. Xi Xi, “Marvels of a Floating City,” 42.
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IvyPanda. (2021, July 1). The Expression of "Hong Kong Obsession" in Xi Xi's "Marvels of a Floating City" and Dung Kai Cheung's "The Atlas: Archeology of an Imaginary City". Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-expression-of-hong-kong-obsession-in-xi-xis-marvels-of-a-floating-city-and-dung-kai-cheungs-the-atlas-archeology-of-an-imaginary-city/

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"The Expression of "Hong Kong Obsession" in Xi Xi's "Marvels of a Floating City" and Dung Kai Cheung's "The Atlas: Archeology of an Imaginary City"." IvyPanda, 1 July 2021, ivypanda.com/essays/the-expression-of-hong-kong-obsession-in-xi-xis-marvels-of-a-floating-city-and-dung-kai-cheungs-the-atlas-archeology-of-an-imaginary-city/.

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IvyPanda. "The Expression of "Hong Kong Obsession" in Xi Xi's "Marvels of a Floating City" and Dung Kai Cheung's "The Atlas: Archeology of an Imaginary City"." July 1, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-expression-of-hong-kong-obsession-in-xi-xis-marvels-of-a-floating-city-and-dung-kai-cheungs-the-atlas-archeology-of-an-imaginary-city/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "The Expression of "Hong Kong Obsession" in Xi Xi's "Marvels of a Floating City" and Dung Kai Cheung's "The Atlas: Archeology of an Imaginary City"." July 1, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-expression-of-hong-kong-obsession-in-xi-xis-marvels-of-a-floating-city-and-dung-kai-cheungs-the-atlas-archeology-of-an-imaginary-city/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'The Expression of "Hong Kong Obsession" in Xi Xi's "Marvels of a Floating City" and Dung Kai Cheung's "The Atlas: Archeology of an Imaginary City"'. 1 July.

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