The British Empire Library

Hong Kong Invaded!: A Ninety-seven Nightmare

by Gillian Bickley

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by M J Watson CPM (Royal Hong Kong Police 1959-93, co-author of the The Royal Hong Kong Police, 1841-1945 )
To say that Hong Kong Invaded is one of the most unusual books I have ever read would not be an overstatement. A fictional account of the fall of Hong Kong to a combined French and Russian force, originally published in the Hong Kong China Mail in 1897 under the title Back Door and attributed to a contemporary but unidentified author, the concept is certainly original and the editor has undertaken copious research into the identity of the many characters in the original story, most of whom are not referred to by their real names, but are clearly based on persons living in Hong Kong at that time.

The editor attempts to show that the author may have been a visionary, with frequent references to the similarities between the fictional hostilities and those of 1941, when Hong Kong became the first British territory to surrender to an enemy since the American War of Independence. The most significant difference in the manner in which the campaigns were conducted was the fact that the fictional assault on the Colony was a joint land/sea operation, with the main thrust taking place on the south side of Kong Kong Island, hence the title Back Door.

The author clearly intended his speculative offering for local consumption at a time when concern for Hong Kong's defence was a common phenomenon and the situation on the south side of Hong Kong was of particular significance. Following publication the story was produced in pamphlet form and was eventually sent to a number of officials in the Colonial Office. Although it is not recorded whether or not this was a successful exercise, at least one howitzer battery was authorised and work completed in August 1899 at Wongneichong Gap with the object of repelling any landing by an armed force in Deep Water Bay, a scenario which was highlighted in the fictional account.

Of particular interest to those who served in Hong Kong is the part played in the book by their predecessors and it is true that the then Governor (Robinson), the Attorney General, Colonial Treasurer, Harbour Master and a small number of others receive a mention. However, very few details of their involvement are provided and the greater part of the story is taken up with a description of hostilities, hence the more frequent mention of combatants, both regulars and volunteers. One anomaly is the fact that all police officers in the book are given their real names and ranks, the only group to be so treated, with the sole exception of the Captain Superintendent, F H May, who is thinly disguised as Mr Miht! Francis May was later knighted and went on to become Governor of the Colony (1912 - 1919).

Regrettably the editor's treatment of the subject does not make for easy reading, there being a constant need to refer to explanatory notes throughout the text. Given that there are over 1100 such references contained in 70 pages (the original book consists of just 56 pages), the tedious nature of this exercise becomes laborious for the reader, particularly as some references are so banal as to render them superfluous.

My overall impression of the book is one of a scholarly example of "future war fiction", the ethos of which is perhaps best conveyed by an observation in the publisher's notes which accompanied the review copy - "Today the genre's serious but often jingoistic concern for national defence has been transcended by super-national anxiety about the survival of the whole human race"!!

British Empire Book
Gillian Bickley
Hong Kong University Press
962 209 526 7


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