Book Review on The Evergreen Teahouse by Tervor Clark in SINE Magazine of the Scotland-China Association
David Wong Tzi-Ki’s story is fiction founded firmly in facts, and his eye for detail evidences deep and wide research. Apprenticing himself after academic distinctions to career in journalism, he was later appointed to the HK administrative service, where he showed qualities in welfare and other work that eventually raised him to Secretary for Economic Services. Where some expatriate’s heart might as unavailingly as ostentatiously bleed for disaster’s victims, he wisely preferred to encourage the national impulse in adversity to gather oneself together and fight back by one’s own efforts. Retiring at the top, he turned very successfully to business, and after retiring again he became an author. His first novel follows many published short stories. The Evergreen Teahouse takes us from 1952 to 1985 from the Korean War to the Joint Declaration. We follow the fortunes from boyhood of two sons: one of a successful businessman who had tried to be a good Confucian: the other of a disabled veteran of the Long March who had tried to be a good Party Secretary (in Anhui). The former deracinated by America becomes the archetypal tycoon and established pillar whose less public life brings him to a sticky end: the latter plays a largely unnoticed part in China’s outpost in Hong Kong and ends his integrity unsullied in virtual diplomatic banishment as a Party Secretary in his remote and uninfluential home.
The three leading British character, equally well drawn are a national serviceman who turns investigation journalist, a bluff lawyer who regrettably shakes the pagoda tree and a self-indulgent government information officer. These round-eyes make friends with a senior Chinese administrative officer who has accepted the Queen’s shilling and is loyal to British policy whenever it places the ordinary inhabitants’ welfare first. It is interesting how anonymous and shadowy the UK diplomats and senior HK administrators are, and how quite severe criticisms of their motives, styles and inadequacies come mainly through the voices, not of the Chinese, but of these Britons. The assumptions of the later idealistic but youthfully naive students torn between loyalty to China as a concept and modem (unspokenly “Western”) ways are poignant. This is a thought-provoking and stylish portrayal of human psychologies and relationships that should encourage reading of the surrounding history.