Dung Kai-Cheung, A Catalog of Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made on (Chinese 1999, English 2022)

It took me a while to get through this book but the size of the book actually took me by surprise (as it is often the case with Netgalley ARCs): this collection comprises no less than 99 short stories (most of them very short, and very easy to read) on Hong Kong life in the late 1990s.

First published in 1999, I believe that the author’s intention was to make a impressionistic portrait of the city on 1997 or right after, which is the year Hong Kong returned into the folds of Communist China. It’s a tough book to love for people who don’t know this city (although the translator has provided much needed references at the beginning of each story) but it was a personal delight to have these memories brought back to life. Many stories inside are mini love stories, anecdotes or snapshots and refer to many iconic material purchases that were so popular in Asia in the 1990s: Hello Kitty, fashion designer brands, flip phones, Japanese tv series, etc.

Indeed, as I read this in 2022, what is glaring now is more what is not in those stories rather than what is. No mention of political and economic contexts, no mention of China or even Shenzhen north of the border. All these youthful people in the book are 100% materialistic and egocentric in their love stories and pursuits. Some stories in the book may seem rather shallow. A generation later, what a contrast! Hong Kong is no longer heavily influenced by Japanese culture, it is no longer an economic Asian tiger, and due to Covid, it’s not even a regional hub anymore. Hong Kong youth is now a lot more political, they affirm their identity (separate from mainland China) and don’t hesitate to rebel. I cannot help but wonder how the blissfully ignorant naivety of Hello Kitty lovers has given way to a generation of increasingly desperate young people who choose emigration if they are able to.

Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley. I received a free copy of this book for review consideration.

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