Xu Xi. (2001). The Unwalled City. Hong Kong: Chameleon Press.

As the title, The Unwalled City, implies, this text represents Hong Kong as a cosmopolitan space - something that has become commonplace in journalese and fiction, and is highly visible in Hong Kong’s promotion of itself as “Asia’s world city”. Its cast of characters is reflective of the cosmopolitanism associated with the city and ranges from American photographer Vince De Luca, facing a mid-life crisis following two failed marriages, Andanna Lee, a Canadian educated Hong Kong Chinese girl aspiring to be a singer, and her friend Clio, Colleen, an American woman who speaks Putonghua and Cantonese and is married to a wealthy Hong Kong Chinese tycoon, Gail, a Harvard-educated Hong Kong businesswoman, and Albert Ho, a Hong Kong Chinese socialite figure. Some are born and bred Hong Kong people while others are itinerant figures for whom Hong Kong becomes a temporary refuge from various conflicts in their personal lives.

The Unwalled City’s representation of Hong Kong contrasts with the earlier anglophone tradition, evident in writers like Clavell and Theroux, of imaging the city as an exotic space or a location on which a stereotypical clash or blending of civilizations occurs. In doing so, it joins an increasing trend in anglophone texts where Hong Kong “local” society becomes a more familiar and accessible space. However, The Unwalled City centres on a largely upper middle class or affluent social milieu, and the cosmopolitanism it chronicles is associated with this social group. Most of the novel deals with the lifestyles of people in the banking and financial industry and fashion, music and marketing industries. While it looks to the interiority of their personal lives and adds local ‘flavour’ by incorporating a large number of Mandarin and Cantonese phrases (a glossary is provided at the end), the narrative is largely circumscribed by this professional/business world. There is also little character or plot development resulting in a rather flat narrative structure which provides a somewhat static view of a set of intertwined lives.  (HR)


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