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Fabulist Writing from Hong Kong

June 2018

The three writers who are the focus of this feature—Xi Xi, Dorothy Tse, and Hon Lai Chu—mainly write outside of the realist literary tradition. Much of Xi Xi’s writing is labeled as magic realist or fairy-tale realist, and Tse and Hon are noted for their surrealism and absurdism. Similar to Kafka, who hailed from a Central Europe of ever-changing borders and coexisting languages, they fuse together elements of reality and fantasy, crafting fanciful worlds that are grounded in the mundane. They rarely mention Hong Kong by name, either dreaming up alternate designations for the city, or not referencing it at all. Xi Xi’s fictional stand-in for Hong Kong, Fertile Soil Town, is a place with mythical origins that floats to and fro, no destination in sight. In “Chewing On Words,” Tse recreates Hong Kong as City 1997, a flea-sized micro-city that “seems to have disappeared into the same black hole as language.” While the city in Hon’s “Puma” is unnamed, development and urbanization lead to its inhabitants’ imprisonment and alienation. Renaming or not naming Hong Kong gives these authors the freedom to construct competing versions of the city vis-à-vis its official history, enabling them to invent their own limitless realities.