Gothic

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Bradley, Rebecca J. and Stewart Sloan. 1998. Temutma. Hong Kong: Asia 2000 Ltd.

A joint effort by Bradley and Sloan in one of their  gothic fantasies about pre-1997 Hong Kong. The vampire Temutma, long confined by its keeper in the subterranean depths of the Kowloon Walled City, breaks out and begins a bloodthirsty rampage through Hong Kong. The keeper, an ancient Chinese man of indeterminable age, joins forces with an upstanding British superintendent in the Hong Kong police force to battle Temutma’s latest return. Ensnared in this mighty conflict is the beautiful daughter of a rich British couple, long-term residents in Hong Kong and Temutma’s first victims. Other characters include a heroic young Chinese policewoman who has grown up among the poor of the Walled City, a drunken British journalist for a local English-language newspaper who has few scruples about chasing a good story, his triad counterpart in a Chinese-language newspaper, and assorted wives and mistresses of various Southeast Asian ethnicities. All of them die. After much raping and pillaging on the part of the vampire, human order prevails. The police superintendent returns to England while the beautiful young woman is inducted by the keeper as his successor, charged with the immemorial duty of safeguarding Hong Kong against Temutma’s next return.

A rather familiar type of orientalist gothic narrative is relocated to Hong Kong, and it is the problematic 1997 context which gives the novel some interest. The horror that is Temutma is, on one level, projection of anxiety about China’s takeover of Hong Kong. But it is also universalized as some kind of metaphysical evil that  becomes present in times of war and bloodshed. One of its previous incarnations happened when the nomads of Central Asia stormed southwards into China; another more recent time was during the Japanese rampage in the Second World War. 1997 marks its latest re-formation as a specifically Chinese spirit of the Walled City, to be counter-balanced by an equally ancient Chinese force embodied in the keeper. “Hong Kong” is the site of battle between good and evil and the space of cultural trauma as the result of struggles between “West” and “East” but as the “East” tears itself apart.  From this perspective, 1997, as a power struggle between the Chinese and British governments, is displaced by the narrative.

In a further twist, the novel imagines, through the battle against Temutma and its defeat, a point of departure toward a new social order. It begins in the cooperation between the older keeper and the British police superintendent, and moves on to the young woman’s inheritance of the keeper’s powers. Though the two men are on opposite sides of a traditional and colonial divide, they have both lived in Hong Kong for a long time. So has the woman heroine who is born in Hong Kong and has grown up locally. For these three characters who eventually drive Temutma back into the depths, the ground of solidarity, or a “Hong Kong” identity, is not race, nationality, age, gender, or class, but rather long-term residency. This identity is suffused with moral goodness; though ethnically impure, it is an ethical force directed by the mission of safeguarding Hong Kong’s future social order and harmony. Temutma’s gothic fantasy about Hong Kong under the Chinese vampire also inscribes an utopian “east meets west” teleology toward an identity subject to time – long-term residency – but is also liberated from historical bloodlust and conflicts of race, gender and ethnicity.  (EH)

 
 
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