The Queen of Statue Square - new fiction from Hong Kong
A new anthology, The Queen of Statue Square, dissects prevalent issues of identity and belonging in Hong Kong. Jacqueline Leung speaks to co-editors Marshall Moore and Xu Xi about what being a Hongkonger really means
For a moment, let’s fast forward to six hours before July 1, 2047: a team of domestic helpers of 12 nationalities are trying to hijack Hong Kong’s handover to mainland China for a freer future and to support an all-encompassing HK identity. This might seem like a prediction of the future, but for Sri Lankan, Hong Kong-based author Nury Vittachi, this fictional scenario, played out in his short story The Queen of Statue Square, questions some very real issues that are currently at hand. The piece is just one of eight in a new anthology of Hong Kong writing, which carries the same title as Vittachi’s story. Not only is the collection a reflection of Hong Kong’s oh-so-current drive for democracy but it’s also a catalyst for questioning HK’s identity, the multi-ethnic groups in the city and their struggles with belonging. At present, despite Hong Kong’s reputation as an accommodating international city, more than 90 percent of the population is still Han Chinese. What does it mean, then, to be a ‘Hongkonger’? Is it a status reserved exclusively for Chinese people born and raised in the city, or is identity defined by looser boundaries?
The Queen of Statue Square: New Short Fiction from Hong Kong, co-edited by Hong Kong authors Marshall Moore and Xu Xi, delves deep into the issue, but makes no attempt to provide an answer for what’s inherently ambiguous. “There’s no single, monolithic Hong Kong identity,” says Moore. “The great majority of people here may be Cantonese-speaking Han Chinese but that doesn’t mean it’s the only valid Hong Kong identity that exists. Hong Kong is what it is because of the contributions by people of many different nationalities, and it would be a mistake to exclude expats and the diaspora.”
The other seven contributing authors of short stories, who come from diverse nationalities, also reflect Hong Kong’s heterogeneity. Most are deeply entrenched in Hong Kong and places outside of it, and intrinsic to the contributors’ works is an exploration of that ever-elusive idea of a ‘Hongkonger’. In the short story Make-Believe, Yeung Chak-yan tells the tale of a homebound student from the UK struggling with her mother’s susceptibility to Chinese superstitions, while Stephanie Han in Swimming in Hong Kong narrates the story from the perspective of a 40-year-old African-American swimmer training for a triathlon. These characters evoke a simple desire to belong, but belonging isn’t that simple. “The identity of an English-conversant Hongkonger is fragmentary, insofar as it can be many different identities,” says Xu Xi. “But the Hong Kong Cantonese identity, the majority culture, closes in on itself and leans towards insularity. In this respect, it is not unlike greater Chinese culture.”
The heterogeneous in Hong Kong are often situated between seemingly conflicting forces of identity. This is not something new. What is new, though, is that the anthology tells of a trend in which English language Hong Kong literature is developing, as it was previously sustained by only a mere handful of expatriates. The Queen of Statue Square sees the rise of a larger crowd of writers with diverse backgrounds, third-culture kids who are both globalised and local. “[The anthology] points to a kind of transnationalism and transculturalism that we see in contemporary literature, the idea that one nation, culture or language alone is not the only purview of literary expression,” says Xu Xi. “Globalisation and globalist culture has a lot to do with this, especially among urban writers who are exposed to this reality.”
For authors with a more global outlook, identity remains a prominent topic to explore in creative writing. A rising body of Hong Kong literature written in English broadens, if not muddles, the parameters of what constitutes a ‘Hongkonger’. “You can be an Indian or a Filipino who was born here, or an expat Westerner with permanent ID,” says Moore. “Who’s to say who belongs and who doesn’t, other than the Immigration Department?”
Marshall Moore and Xu Xi discuss identity further on November 11 at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival; buy tickets for the Queen of Statue Square talk at eventbee.com.
The Queen of Statue Square is available at amazon.com, priced US$11.99.
Photo credit: Paul Hilton