In this alternative account of Hong Kong, freed from the shackles of state-sponsored history, Lim places recent protests in the territory’s centuries-old history of rebellion, dating back to when it was a center of production. of salt flourishing in the 12th century BC. details recent efforts by Hong Kongers to forge a sense of shared history, from Lo Ting myth-making to “archive marathons”, in which volunteer researchers come together to comb through up to 8,000 pages of source material at a time, “piecing together the past”. And, writes Lim, Hong Kongers “were also political animals, showing their displeasure when their core values ​​were threatened,” by taking to the streets. Over time, writes Lim, a Hong Kong identity has emerged, based on respect for hard work and perseverance (aka “Lion Rock Spirit”) and maintained by a common Cantonese language and a growing distrust of the mainland. .

But perhaps the most unlikely hero in Lim’s tale – indeed, his inspiration for the book in the first place – is Tsang Tsou-choi, better known as the King of Kowloon. A toothless garbage collector who accused British colonialists of stealing his ancestral homeland, ‘The King’ spent nearly six decades, from the 1950s until his death in 2007, waging a daring graffiti campaign around the island to make its claims known. Continuing with her story, Lim “discovered a multitude of Hong Kong” and her own competing identities. Was she a neutral reporter or a participant? As a Eurasian who only speaks “disgracefully basic” Cantonese, is she a real Hong Konger? In the end, Lim concludes that she is and therefore could not stay neutral. “Distance is a privilege that Hong Kongers – no matter where – cannot enjoy,” she wrote. “There is no escaping the horror of seeing your home destroyed.”

In “The Impossible City”, Cheung also distinguishes between the multiple universes that make up modern Hong Kong. There’s the “Cosmopolitan City,” home to international students and expats whose idea of ​​paradise is Lan Kwai Fong, “a slope infested with drunken men’s bars and shots of Jell-O,” who proudly say people that they are from Hong Kong but are “barely able to describe the city without talking about Mong Kok or rice char siu”.

Then there’s the world of wet markets and the waterfront, “underground musicians in industrial buildings, anarchists who run a vegetarian restaurant, zinemakers and poets who write in both Chinese and English bastard”. It was in these “quiet corners” that Cheung learned what it means to be a Hong Konger.

His memoir covers the period between the 1997 handover and 2021, the year after new national security legislation became “a weapon for Beijing to silence dissent in Hong Kong”, as well as a “turning point”. for a total crackdown that quickly infiltrated every aspect of life.” Cheung was reluctant to write about Hong Kong until “the walls began to close in”, and she feared that if she waited too long, there would be no Hong Kong to write about. This book, she says, is her way of remembering “the way we lived”.

Cheung was born in Shenzhen and moved to Hong Kong before she was one year old. “When I was 4,” she writes, “my little town changed from a British colony to Chinese ownership.” At that time, his parents were separated, his mother absent, his father capricious. His relationship with the two is strained. The “one reliable presence” in Cheung’s life was his grandmother, who was fussy about her Taoist rituals and expressed her love through food, from abalone and lettuce to steamed fish and baby food. breads. At the time, Cheung didn’t yet know what it meant to be a Hong Konger. The SARS crisis and the 2003 protests against Section 23, a national security bill, are just the background noise to the familiar drama of childhood.