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Black, Gavin. (1975). The Golden Cockatrice. London: Harper and Row Publishers.

The Golden Cockatrice is a typical spy-thriller genre text that positions Hong Kong and Macau as international centre of espionage and a staging ground for Chinese and Russian political intrigue. Set during the post-Vietnam war period of heightened tensions between Russia and China, the basic plot of the story is an exposé of a diabolical Chinese plan to achieve  a global monopoly in merchant shipping..

Paul Harris, a British businessman who operates the small shipping company Hok Lin in the South China Seas, begins to lose business as his clients are intimated by a rival company called O.S.L. As Harris begins to investigate his competition, he realizes that O.S.L. is a front for much larger and mysterious business interests. Harris’ investigation leads him to Macau where he enlists Alvarez, a lawyer with dubious credentials,  to file an injunction against O.S.L. in the hope this would flush out the real culprit. Harris’ actions result in the desired outcome with him being forcibly whisked off from Macau to an offshore yacht by a strong man named Ho Tai—an old acquaintance of Harris’.

On board the luxury yacht, Harris meets K.K. Long, a wealthy businessman originally from Mainland China. Long explains to Harris that O.S.L. is his front operation and makes a partnership proposition to Harris. Virtually a prisoner aboard the yacht,  Harris, though tempted by the offer which would make Hok Lin grow rapidly, hesitates because he anticipates a relationship with Long to be repressive. Long persists in pressurizing Harris to accept the partnership but finally allows Harris to leave by returning him to Macau.

In Macau, Harris gains information on Long from a woman named Wei whom he believes is a mainland refugee turned prostitute but is actually a Russian agent. She tells Harris that Long’s ships are manned by Mainland refugees who have been rendered effectively stateless by Long and held in a kind of modern indentureship. The refugees, unable to return to the Mainland due to fear of prosecution and a life of poverty having surrendered their identity documents to Long in hope of escape to Taiwan and other parts of the world, find themselves working aboard Long’s fleet of ships for minimal wages.

In the concluding sequence of the novel, Harris discovers that Long is working for Mainland China. China is using Long’s established position as a businessman to build a monopoly in global shipping. By using  refugee labour, Long’s business empire can undercut the competition, and a partnership with Harris is one step in the expansion of this monopoly. Harris learns this in a shootout at a secluded villa in Macau where Wei reveals herself to be a Russian agent. Long, Ho Tai and a Russian agent die in the shootout and Wei and Harris escape Macau by submarine. Harris is interrogated by the Russians but is subsequently released and returns to Hong Kong.

The novel critiques a morally questionable benevolent authoritarianism by which Long attempts to justify the use of refugees as indentured labour. Long argues that in the East people are more willing to accept such servitude especially as it offers them relatively better living conditions than in their own societies. But Harris, though portrayed as a profit-seeking capitalist, has a liberal conscience that finds such an idea inherently problematic. Though Harris is not portrayed as particularly morally upright, the text appears to affirm an East-West binary where western capitalist interests are seen as more liberal in comparison to the kind of Maoist-inspired repression represented by Long, which in turn seems to be identified with an illiberal and autocratic Eastern worldview. Russia in this text is seen as the lesser of two evils when compared to Communist China. (HR)  

    

 

 
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