Colquhoun, Keith. (1982). Filthy Rich. London: John Murray.

Filthy Rich is a quasi-bildungsroman of a British youthís initiation into the realities about his fatherís life in Hong Kong. The novelís representation of Hong Kong follows a familiar pattern in British fiction about colonial outposts. Though the time frame is a  rapidly modernizing Hong Kong,  it continues to be  seen as  a far-flung exotic location where the western male subject can indulge in practices that are ethically problematic at home but are common and even accepted practice in the colony. The familiar themes of eastern sensuality, the corruptive influence of the East and the dangers it poses are clearly visible despite some attempts at irony.

Michael Hawkins, a young man about to sit for his university entrance exams in England, finds himself suddenly pulled out of a comfortable upper middle class existence and being summoned to Hong Kong by a father who has been largely absent from his life in England. Michael knows very little about his fatherís life in Hong Kong. Arriving in the city, Michael is met by the enigmatic Mr Blue who books him into a hotel, ostensibly acting on Michaelís fatherís behalf. While waiting for his father to make contact, Michael develops a friendship with a middleaged woman called Mrs Wellington who becomes his  informal advisor. When Michaelís father finally appears there is a great deal of secrecy surrounding the visit. He soon discovers, through Mrs Wellington, that his father is a high ranking police officer under investigation for bribery and corruption. Michael, not particularly troubled by this knowledge, begins to enjoy his stay in Hong Kong because his father sets him up in an apartment with an allowance and a Chinese girl named Emily who cooks, cleans and offers to sleep with Michael who is a still a virgin. Emily is one of Michaelís fatherís collection agents. Michael finds his fatherís more obviously xenophobic statements about Hong Kong culture and society absurd, and in this respect, the novel suggests  generational change between the attitudes of  older and younger colonials. But the presentation of Emily shows that the novel cannot really escape stereotypical thinking especially when it comes to women.   To Michael, Emily   is inscrutable despite the fact she speaks English. She is a sexual partner but her motivations, desires, and  views about their relationship are  unfathomable to him.  When questioned, Emilyís responses to Michael are sullenly banal and generic. However, Emily does get some, if limited, narrative space and her responses are sometimes ironic.

Michaelís father becomes worried about the investigation and shows his son a stash of nearly one million pounds hidden on Cheung Chau Island. The father wants Michael to remain in Hong Kong and ensure the money is protected. At the same time, Mrs Wellington puts Michael in touch with a lawyer named Mr Francis who informs Michael that his fatherís situation is bad and that a deal with the government disclosing his fatherís illegally acquired money could save him. Faced with a dilemma, Michael decides to convert part of the money to various European currencies and take it back to England so that the family, including his mother and sisters, can maintain their lifestyle. The father reluctantly endorses this plan and Michael successfully leaves Hong Kong with the money. The story ends with Michael back at his boarding school preparing for his entrance exams. The only indication of his excursion to the East is a mild case of gonorrhoea, presumably contracted from Emily. 

The ending of the story inverts the classic colonial cautionary tale to an extent because Michael, if not his father, successfully returns from his tryst in Hong Kong. However, the narrative represents Hong Kong basically as a place where British/western subjects, men in particular, are corrupted. It is not entirely clear whether this is attributed to the nature of colonial rule or whether it has something to do with the East as a location. However, the overall impression the story creates is of Hong Kong as an inscrutable and exotic location vis-ŗ-vis the West. (HR)


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