Academic journal article China Perspectives

A Hong Kong Miracle of a Different Kind

Academic journal article China Perspectives

A Hong Kong Miracle of a Different Kind

Article excerpt

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The first part of Dung Kai-cheung's (...) Ziranshi sanbuqu (..., Natural History Trilogy) appeared in 2005. Over the past six years he has published Part 1, Tiangong Kaiwu: Xuxu ruzhen(..., Works and Creation: Vivid and Lifelike), Part 2, Shijian fanshi: Yaci zhi guang(..., Histories of Time: The Lustre of Mute Porcelain); and, most recently, the first section of Part 3, Wuzhong yuanshi: Beibei chongsheng(..., The Origin of Species: Beibei is Re- born), which has the subtitle "Xuexi niandai" (..., The Apprentice- ship).(1)The trilogy has yet to be completed, but its length is already quite breath-taking. Part 1 contains 300,000 characters, Part 2, 600,000, and the first volume of Part 3, 520,000. The second and final volume of Part 3 is expected to contain 600,000 characters.

This is already far longer than a standard novel, but Dung seems not yet to have finished what he set out to do. What is the subject matter that impels him to write like this? The term "trilogy" brings to mind the roman-fleuve, and revolutionary romances such as Ba Jin's Torrentstrilogy and Shih Shu-ching's Hong Kong trilogy. The history of China in the twentieth century was so tur- bulent that it seems difficult to convey its vicissitudes fully unless by writing at length, with each book taking up where the previous one leaves off. But Dung's trilogy does not focus on the history of the Chinese nation; his inten- tion is to write about a particular "natural history," and a glance at the titles of his works alone is enough to indicate that the space-time coordinates in his fiction, and the organisation of his characters and stories, obviously run counter to the "joys and sorrows" formula of the traditional trilogy.

But Dung is not what is known today as a post-modernist writer, either. He demonstrates consummate skill in his use of contemporary narrative tech- niques, from collage and misplacement to parody, yet he has no intention of writing "playful" fiction. He deconstructs genders, values, and concepts that we never question, while at the same time pondering the possibility of con- structing "the origin of species." He is especially mindful of the dialectical re- lationship between the fictional and the real, and of the ethical significance of writing. In this, Dung is actually taking on quite a "classical" responsibility.

Even more intriguingly, the environment that Dung creates is not main- land China or Taiwan, but Hong Kong. Hong Kong is not known for its lit- erature, but in the past few decades many writers there have been quietly engaging in pure literary creation, and with great success. Dung is signifi- cant not only because he is content with his isolation there, but also be- cause he can thus take advantage of it and work against prevailing trends. Drawing on this isolated setting, he keeps doggedly to his intended course, and creates an imaginary space entirely different from that found in the literature of either mainland China or Taiwan. In a very particular sense, his works are an echo of the perceptual structure known as "Hong Kong."

From Body to City: Mapping the borders of nature and culture

Dung Kai-cheung has long been interested in the idea of the origin of species. His first story, "Xixiliya" (Cecilia), published in 1992, already shows signs of this. A young office worker, oblivious to a female colleague's secret love for him, becomes infatuated with an armless plastic mannequin on dis- play in the window of a clothes shop. Through a woman who works in the shop he sends her love letters, and the shop assistant takes it upon herself to reply on behalf of the mannequin, choosing the name Cecilia for her (or herself). A highly eccentric emotional relationship develops between the three of them. The story concludes with the clothes shop going out of busi- ness, but since the story of Cecilia has begun, it now has the opportunity to evolve. "What else can I do but go on writing your name and your story? …

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