About a month ago, when I was contemplating my summer reading goals, my plan was to read a few books that dealt in some way with a part of the world that foreign policy experts refer to as greater China: China, Hong Kong, Macau and (arguably) Taiwan. Despite my lofty intentions, Ha Jin’s Waiting Aaron Friedberg’s A Contest for Supremacy: China, America, and the Struggle for Mastery in Asia and Da Chen’s My Last Empress (autographed in Chinese calligraphy by the author-one of my BEA acquisitions) are currently sitting on my shelf just waiting to be read. Well, so much for that ambitious plan.
But all is not lost. As you might remember from one of my recent Library Loot postings, courtesy of my public library I found a copy of Jonathan Fenby’s Dealing with the Dragon: A Year in the New Hong Kong. And while I’ve yet to touch the three above mentioned China-centric works, with Fenby’s book I dived right in. Even while reading several other books at the same time, I made quick work of Dealing with the Dragon, finished it in what seemed like no time at all. I found it to be one of those non-flashy but incredibly substantive and detailed accounts of life in a foreign city. It’s one of those books you could spend reading on a quiet winter’s eve, with a glass of your beverage of choice by your side as you idle the hours away. While I wouldn’t consider it highly entertaining by any stretch, when one factors in Fenby’s attention to detail it’s surprising readable.
Dealing with the Dragon is Fenby’s look back on the year 1999, the time he served as editor of Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper. Politically and socially well-connected thanks to his position at the paper, Fenby is able to comment in detail on the high-level goings on within Honk Kong’s government as well as its business world. He also discusses significant developments on the mainland as well as nearby Macau. Packaged into the format of a highly detailed but not too personal journal, Fenby’s almost daily entries from the year 1999 describe a great deal.
Focusing as he did on his time in Hong Kong in 1999, thanks to his recollection of event the book became a kind of walk down memory lane for me. Reading Fenby I was taken back to the Taiwan earthquake, the American bombing of the Chinese embassy during the Kosovo campaign, the Macau handover, China joining the WTO and the US women’s soccer team beating China on penalty kicks. But what I really liked was Fenby’s daily entries describing the early signs of China’s rise as an economic powerhouse. As early as 1999 one could see that the mighty dragon was beginning to awaken.
Since Dealing with the Dragon is well over ten years old, naturally there’s a temptation to the consider Fenby’s book dated and possibly not relevant. I on the other hand would strongly disagree. Thanks to Fenby’s impressive access to the region’s movers and shakers combined with his impressive attention to detail, the book could be considered a valuable resource to anyone wanting to learn not just about Hong Kong, but also China’s rise as a nation to be reckoned with.