Originally published on October 23, 2018, by Amanda Sheppard. Last updated on October 28, 2019, by Gigi Wong.
From historical novels to the glitz and glam of 21st-century high society, Hong Kong has served as the backdrop to its fair share of literature. We take a look at the best books set in the city we call home. Fed up of your run-of-the-mill Netflix binge? Then why not pick up a few of these books about our treasured Hong Kong instead.
1. Cantonese Love Stories (2017)
This compilation features 25 short stories set in Hong Kong in the 1990s. Author Dung Kai-cheung takes readers through the diverse lives lived by those in the city, from two lovers whose photobooth stickers keep their love alive to a girl who reads stolen love letters in a café. It is part of the special edition Hong Kong Series released by Penguin Books in 2017 to mark 20 years since the handover.
2. China Rich Girlfriend (2016)
Crazy Rich Asians may have put Singapore on the blockbuster map, but scenes from the sequel novel take place in Hong Kong. Kevin Kwan’s China Rich Girlfriend chronicles the run-up to Rachel and Nick’s wedding and her quest to find her family, but her father’s identity reveals more than she expected.
3. Umbrellas in Bloom (2016)
Jason Y. Ng is a local author and activist, and his 2016 non-fiction book charts the 79-day Occupy Central protests, with first-hand insight into the events that unfolded. It is part of a trilogy by Ng, which focuses on politics in post-handover Hong Kong.
Read more! Looking for a bookshop? Here are some of Hong Kong’s best.
4. White Ghost Girls (2006)
Alice Greenway’s debut novel is set in 1960s Hong Kong. Frankie and Kate are two American sisters living in the city, with the events of the Maoist revolution unfolding on their doorstep. A tale of tragedy, loss, and the unbreakable bond felt between family.
5. Gweilo (2004)
Who hasn’t seen this book on the shelf of every Hong Kong bookshop? The autobiographical works are based on author Martin Booth’s childhood memories growing up in 1950s Hong Kong. The book is written from the perspective of a child with nothing but time to explore the city, from the sights and sounds of its unique street food to the far-reaching corners of the Kowloon Walled City.
6. Kowloon Tong (1997)
In Paul Theroux’s novel, protagonist Neville ‘Bunt’ Mullard is the picture of innocence. That is, until a man looking to purchase his textile business unearths his most closely-guarded secrets and threatens to expose it, leaving Bunt running the risk of falling apart at the seams.
Read more! Dig for used and pre-loved books at the best second-hand bookstores in Hong Kong.
7. The Monkey King (1978)
Timothy Mo’s first novel proved so popular on its release that it was later turned into a 10-part audiobook, read on BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime segment. The Eurasian, Hong Kong-born author’s comedic novel follows a man’s attempt to fit into Hong Kong high society, with less wealth than he would have his peers believe.
8. The Honourable Schoolboy (1977)
The Honourable Schoolboy features John Le Carre’s celebrated character, George Smiley, of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy fame. Filled with mystery, intrigue, and espionage, the sixth instalment in the series chronicles Smiley’s attempt to salvage a covert organisation from being levelled by the government.
9. Tai-Pan (1966)
This historical novel is set in Hong Kong in the aftermath of the First Opium War. Dirk Struan, the owner of a trading company, sees the financial viability of the island of Hong Kong and will stop at nothing to become Tai-Pan.
Read more! Too many books on your shelves? Donate them and make space for more!
10. The World of Suzie Wong (1957)
One of the original East-meets-West love stories, Richard Mason’s novel chronicles the relationship forged between Richard Lomax, a Malaysian-based plantation worker, and lady of the night, Suzie Wong. Since the book’s release, The World of Suzie Wong has been transformed into both stage and film adaptations, including the 1960 movie, which launched Hollywood newcomer and leading lady Nancy Kwan into stardom.
Photo courtesy of Blacksmith Books
11. Hong Kong Noir (2014)
Written by a retired pathologist Feng Chi-shun who once owned a dive bar in Kowloon City, Hong Kong Noir is a collection of 15 true tales from the dark side of the city. Strewn with details, it encompasses stories like the gruesome Hello Kitty murder, the taxi driver from hell, and the student who stumbled into the 1967 riots and entered the world of girlie bars—all are stories Feng heard during managing the dive bar.
Photo courtesy of Amazon
12. History’s Fiction: Stories from the City of Hong Kong (2001)
The history of Hong Kong is told through fiction by one of the city’s top writers, Xu Xi, in this book. Set against the backdrop of the historical events that occurred in the turbulent 1960s through to 1990s, these stories represent the evolution and shaping of a voice, as Xu strives to create art out of her birthplace. Indulge in stories of the 852 painted with love and compassion.
Photo courtesy of Goodreads
13. Myself a Mandarin (1968)
Myself a Mandarin is a memoir by Austin Coates after he was unexpectedly appointed as a magistrate in a country district in Hong Kong. Thus, Coates was plunged into a Chinese world about which he knew nothing and had to learn as fast as possible. The book takes readers through the cultural puzzles and bafflements of sixteen court cases that came into his court, which includes dealing with cows, dragons, a Buddhist abbot, and more.