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Bickley, Gillian. ed. (2001). Hong Kong Invaded! A ’97 Nightmare. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.

The volume republishes a short piece of polemical fiction, The Back Door, in which it is imagined that Hong Kong falls to a successful Franco-Prussian assault in 1897. The narrative itself takes up a small part of the volume, the rest being given over to introductory essays. Bickley’s endnotes and historical introduction focus in particular on the historical references and on the similarities between the predicted attack of The Back Door and the actual attack of Japan in 1941.

Generically,  this sort of fiction tends to be written from an imagined future date, and looks back on an event which, chronologically, is still in the reader’s future (such as The Battle of Dorking). The point of the fiction  is  to act as a prophetic warning, encouraging a change (societal, moral, political, etc) in the reader so as to avoid the foretold disaster. Peculiarly, The Back Door appeared after the date of the ‘predicted’ event undermining the prophetic aspect of its warning. The fiction presents the fall of Hong Kong as the initial defeat which leads to the destruction of the British Empire as a whole. The narration of Hong Kong’s fall is given in a letter to a man, Mr Brooks, who, having been shipwrecked in the Pacific for ten years, has heard nothing of the events which have befallen Hong Kong, his former place of residence. Eventually finding his way  back to ‘civilization’, Brooks met someone who was apparently present at the fall of Hong Kong but managed to  escape, and who sends Brooks a full account of events after a conversation with him. Brooks’ unfinished epistolary account is then published after his  death in The Star of Uruguay, with an editorial comment explaining his  history. This composite fiction then appeared in The China Mail between 30 September and 8 October 1897. The text was then published in book form with an additional letter to the editor of The China Mail,   and a further editorial from The China Mail delineating the ten lessons to be learnt from the account in respect of Hong Kong’s defences.

The piece represents an interesting example of a populist composite/prophetic genre. Bickley’s introduction discusses its relation to other fiction in this genre from Swift onwards. Whilst its composite nature is interesting, what is more interesting is the way in which the text presents the fall of Hong Kong as the precursor to the fall of the British Empire. The text presupposes firstly the innate Britishness of Hong Kong and secondly Hong Kong’s importance to the British Empire. (KB)

 

 
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