Xu Xi. (1997). Hong Kong Rose. Hong Kong: Asia 2000.

Hong Kong Rose is the story of an American educated young middle-class Hong Kong woman, Rose Kho, and her struggle to reconcile the demands of bourgeois respectability and filial duty with her personal and professional ambitions and romantic and sexual desires. Rose is of mixed Indonesian-Chinese parentage, possibly with some autobiographical reference to the authorís own background. However, Roseís mother, though originally from Indonesia, is a woman who desires intensely to be a part of elite Chinese society in Hong Kong, and attempts to realize this desire through her daughter.

Rose falls in love withPaul Lie, the son of an elite Chinese family. The Lies encourage the relationship because they want to maintain a faÁade of respectability which will crumble if their sonís homosexuality is exposed, especially at a time when sodomy was illegal in Hong Kong. Rose discovers her husbandís secret only after she is committed to the marriage and from that point onwards, the narrative becomes a rather predictable exposť of sordid family secrets that lie beneath the respectability of bourgeois Hong Kong society.

Even after Rose discovers Paulís homosexuality, she remains with him in a twisted marriage in which Paul is mostly absent in search of gay lovers while Rose herself has a complicated affair with an American Hong Kong resident named Elliot Cohen. The narrative in its depiction of the marriage between Rose and Paul is critical of what are implied to be residual Chinese traditions which deny women self-determination. The elite Lie family, though seemingly cosmopolitan and an image of British gentility and respectability (the father, Paul Senior, is a judge), is shown to be  reactionary in how they deal with their sonís homosexuality; Rose virtually becomes a concubine in her own marriage.  Roseís own tolerance of the relationship is shown to be partly due to her sense of filial duty.

In staging this critique of Hong Kong Chinese society, the text seems to align with the regressive Chinese tradition versus progressive western liberalism dichotomy that is visible in much of anglophone representation of Hong Kong society. While the text speaks candidly to themes of female sexuality and through it the restrictions placed on female self-determination, its depiction of the sordid realities of Hong Kong bourgeois life has an almost gothic quality to it. Skeletons from the cupboard keep piling up and at one point, Paul Senior even attempts to sleep with his daughter-in-law. The novel concludes with a form of liberation for Rose as she relocates to New York to take up a business offer following an amicable separation from Paul. The suggestion at the end that Paul is ready to acknowledge publicly his homosexuality implies a resolution to the story which emancipates its protagonists from their familial and self-imposed constraints. (HR)       


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