Heroism in Wartime Hong Kong

Susan Blumberg-Kason reviews Our Time Will Come, a film by Ann Hui

Chan Sui-jeung was one of the first adults I got to know in Hong Kong, back in 1990 when I moved there for a junior year abroad. The university assigned me to a host family that would take me in for Chinese holidays and perhaps a weekend or two during the school year. Chan and his wife May lived an hour from my dorm, but it was always a pleasure to trek out to Hong Kong Island to visit them.

At the time, I knew SJ Chan was a career civil servant and had a special interest in the Kaifeng and Hong Kong Jewish communities. But it wasn’t until several years ago that I learned Chan was also instrumental in resurrecting the story of the East River Column from World War II. His book East River Column: Hong Kong Guerillas in the Second World War and After narrates the heroics of Hong Kong residents who successfully evacuated hundreds of intellectuals from Japanese-occupied Hong Kong into parts of southern China that were not under Japanese rule. I’ve read about Chinese citizens and foreigners fleeing the mainland during WWII for the safety of British-run Hong Kong before the Japanese occupied it in 1941. But in this case, it was the other way around. Intellectuals in Hong Kong worried about persecution under the brutal Kempeitai, the Japanese military police, so a heroic group of guerillas in Hong Kong and southern China worked clandestinely to bring these writers and scholars up to “Free China.”


Swallowed by the State

Susan Blumberg-Kason reviews The People’s Republic of the Disappeared

When five Hong Kong booksellers disappeared in 2015, the world looked on in shock. Two of the booksellers were abducted outside the borders of mainland China. Gui Minhai, a Swedish citizen, was taken from his apartment in Thailand that October, only to reappear in a televised confession months later. In January of 2018, after he had ostensibly been released from state custody, was seized on a train, the Swedish diplomats accompanying him no deterrent to his abductors. He still remains in China today, unable to leave. Lee Bo, a British citizen, was picked up off the streets of Hong Kong. He made a brief reappearance in the city, asking the Hong Kong police to drop the case of his disappearance and announcing that he would never sell banned books again. He was then whisked away back over the border to mainland China. How could this happen? A new book about enforced disappearance in China, The People’s Republic of the Disappeared: Stories from Inside China’s System for Enforced Disappearances, explains exactly how common practice state-sponsored abduction is against anyone who is deemed to be a threat to China’s national security.


China Memoirs Get Personal

Susan Blumberg-Kason reviews The Road to Sleeping Dragon

A decade ago, China memoirs hit the publishing world in the US with a force that hasn’t let up. The storm is powered in part by Peace Corps alumni: Mike Levy (Kosher Chinese); four-time China memoirist and New Yorker writer Peter Hessler; and Michael Meyer, whose third China memoir, The Road to Sleeping Dragon: Learning China from the Ground Up, was released late last year. I enjoyed Meyer’s The Last Days of Old Beijing when it came out in 2010. And I poured through In Manchuria in a couple of sittings a few years ago. They all took a serious tone and seemed determined to inform a reader who hadn’t ventured to China.

Apart from John Pomfret in his memoir, Chinese Lessons, about a time just after the US and China normalized relations, most American men-in-China memoirists haven’t delved much into their personal lives. And most have been single when they arrived in China. Women memoirists have been more open with their personal stories, like Rachel DeWoskin in Foreign Babes in Beijing and Susan Conley in The Foremost Good Fortune. Fuchsia Dunlop’s Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper is a food memoir, but she goes into detail about feeling lonely and isolated at her school.


Sounding the Alarm in Hong Kong

Susan Blumberg-Kason reviews Candace Chong’s play Wild Boar

The Hong Kong playwright Candace Chong Mui-Ngam worked with David Henry Hwang to translate Hwang’s award-winning play Chinglish, which premiered in Chicago in 2011. Chinglish, a story of cross-cultural American-Chinese relations in a business and personal context, went on to take Broadway by storm. Chong herself is one of Hong Kong’s most renowned playwrights and recently collaborated again with Hwang – for another Chicago premier – but this time on a play Chong wrote. Wild Boar debuted in Cantonese in Hong Kong back in 2012 and has recently been performed in English by Chicago’s Silk Road Rising theater company, with Joanna C. Lee and Ken Smith translating the play into English and Hwang adapting it for an American audience.