1997 Narratives




Cohen, Muhammad. (2007).  Hong Kong on Air. Hong Kong: Blacksmith Books.

Hong Kong on Air attempts a satirical portrayal of television journalism within the 1997 handover context in Hong Kong. Targeting the fact of  worldwide media attention converging on Hong Kong at the time, Cohen’s text  is a somewhat clichéd parody of how political and economic imperatives shape news.

The story is built around a turbulent marriage between Laura Wellesley, a print journalist from New York attempting to build a career as a television producer, and her Jewish American husband, Jeff Golden, who has inherited a women’s underwear business from his father. Laura moves to Hong Kong to take up a position with the fictional FGN (Franklin Global Network) financial news channel, and Jeff decides to accompany her to try his luck in sourcing products from China for his undergarment business. Most of the early part of the narrative is dominated by travelogue-type descriptions of Hong Kong which are largely limited to Lang Kwai Fong, the Mid-Levels, and Central area – all of which are  indicative of the expatriate perspective and discourse in Hong Kong on Air. Laura’s encounters with her Chinese graphics assistant, the euphemistically nick-named “Pussy”, are stereotypically rendered; later on, Pussy is re-invented as the celebrity news anchor Candace Fang because FGN makes a strategic alliance with CCTV and begins targeting Chinese audiences.

 Jeff, unable to secure any substantial business connections, begins a raunchy affair with a Japanese investment banker named Yogi.  The story reaches its climax on the days immediately preceding and following the handover. A tip-off about the Thai government floating the baht which should make headline news on FGN gets ignored because Laura and her colleagues are unfamiliar with currency speculation. However, with the advice of Yogi, Jeff who is also privy to this information , invests in baht using Laura’s stock options as collateral. Jeff makes a massive four million dollar profit while Laura is blamed by her boss Peter Franklin for failing to recognize the importance of the currency speculation story.

Laura’s sense of failure is compounded by the fact that Pussy achieves celebrity status along with Deng Jiang Mao, the American-born Chinese anchor with whom Laura has had a series of confrontations. Deng, whose real name is Lincoln Washington Lee, launches into a major unscripted anti-imperial tirade against the British while covering the handover ceremony, and much to Laura’s surprise and frustration, becomes a valuable asset as FGN aligns itself with CCTV and the Mainland government. By the end of the story, Laura is re-assigned to New York but Jeff refuses to accompany her back and decides to remain in Hong Kong; a possible long-term relationship with Yogi is suggested.

While the text satirizes political and business pragmatism that sees FGN aligning itself with the Mainland regime, the political subtext of the novel is neither substantial nor serious. The text also has little plot or character development, and it uncritically reproduces popular stereotypes about Hong Kong and Chinese culture in general which imparts a neo-orientalist quality to the narrative. (HR)


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