HONG KONG. What was known as the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong includes the island of Hong Kong, which the Qing government ceded to Great Britain in 1842 after it lost the Opium War (1839—1841), Kowloon, ceded in 1862, and the New Territories, leased to the British in 1898. Under British rule, Hong Kong prospered and became one of the most important shipping, trading, and financial centers in the world. For most of its colonial history, Hong Kong enjoyed peace and prosperity, with the exception of World War II when Japan invaded and occupied the city from 1941 to 1945. Since 1997, when China reclaimed its sovereignty over the territory, Hong Kong has remained an important international port and financial center under communist rule.
During the late 19th century and the greater part of the 20th century, Hong Kong was a place to recoup and regroup for revolutionaries and political activists opposing first the Qing, then the Nationalists and the Communists, and a safe haven for ordinary refugees running from China’s seemingly never-ending troubles. The first wave of large-scale immigration from the mainland took place after the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War. Refugees fleeing the devastations of the war included writers and artists, Xia Yan, Ye Lingfeng, Xiao Hong, and Mu Shiying among them. The second wave came after World War II, when mainland China plunged into a Civil War after Japan surrendered. Some left-leaning writers and artists on the run from the pursuit of the Nationalist government took refuge in Hong Kong and helped build the city’s film and publishing industries. Wu Zuguang, for example, escaped from Chongqing to Hong Kong and continued his career there as a playwright and a filmmaker. Toward the end of the war as the Nationalists faced imminent defeat and soon after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, another wave of immigration hit Hong Kong, bringing with it wealthy businessmen, intellectuals, and others fearful of Mao Zedong and his Communist regime. Jin Yong and Xu Xu, who arrived respectively in 1948 and 1950, were among those who made it to Hong Kong during this crucial political transition in modern Chinese history. Among the earlier refugees, some returned to the mainland after 1949; others eventually moved to Taiwan; many, however, chose to remain in Hong Kong. During the 1950s and 1960s, Hong Kong’s literary scene was dominated by these settlers from the mainland who formed the core of the first generation of writers.
In contrast to its impressive success in building the economy, the British did very little to encourage Hong Kong’s literary enterprise. Unlike other British colonies, Hong Kong’s English literary tradition is virtually nonexistent. Ironically, this lack of interest on the part of the colonial rulers gave an unintended opportunity for literature in Chinese to survive. Although a particular kind of popular literature, famous for its knight-errant novels and historical romances represented by Jin Yong and Liang Yusheng, formed the mainstay of Hong Kong’s publishing industry, serious literature did manage to stay alive in the 1950s and 1960s largely through newspaper supplements and magazines, resulting in some truly innovative literature. Liu Yichang’s “Jiu tu” (An Alcoholic) and Zhang Ailing’s Yuan nü (The Rouge of the North) were serialized in Xing dao ribao (The Xing Dao Daily); Huaqiao wenyi (Overseas Chinese Literature and Art), one of the many literary magazines in Hong Kong, published works from Taiwan including modernist poems by Ji Xian, Luo Fu, and Zheng Chouyu.
While most of the literary writings in the 1950s and 1960s tended to speak to the centers (China and Taiwan) from the marginal space of Hong Kong, there were writers, such as Shu Xiangcheng and Liu Yichang, who attempted to grapple with Hong Kong’s cultural uniqueness and its identity. Since the 1970s, with the first generation of writers fully assimilated and new generations of writers emerging, Hong Kong as a subject matter has become the central locus in the literary imagination of writers such as Liang Bingjun, Li Bihua, Xi Xi, Shi Shuqing, Huang Biyun, Dong Qizhang, and Zhong Xiaoyang, whose works explore the city’s past and present as well as its ills and promises to form a type of “urban literature” that gives voice to a city whose “marginality” is at the core of its being. The degree of sophistication and seriousness, and the spirit of experimentalism, manifested in their works shows that Hong Kong, despite being called “a cultural desert,” has made a significant contribution to modern Chinese literature. See also CAO JUREN; CHEN RUOXI; CHENG NAISHAN; HAI XIN; HUO DA; JIN YI; KUN NAN; LÜ LUN; NI KUANG; PING LU; SIMA CHANGFENG; TANG REN; WANG PU; XIA YI; XIAO TONG; XU SU; YI SHU; ZHANG JUNMO.