Item description for King Hui: The Man Who Owned All the Opium in Hong Kong by Jonathan Chamberlain & David Tang...
Scandal and corruption, drugs and pirates, triads and flower boats; the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong and the Communist takeover of Canton. Peter Hui was there. He knew everybody and saw everything. This is the real story of Hong Kong, told with the rich flavours of the street. If Peter had been only a little bit different he could have been an important man. But this is a riches to rags to riches to rags story. As we follow Peter's life - his ups, his downs - we see in sharp focus what it was like to be a Chinese man in the British territory of Hong Kong through most of the years of the 20th century. And yet this book is not just one man's tale. It is the story of a time and place - colonial Hong Kong, Portuguese Macau and the South China hinterland - seen from the unique point of view of a man who was at home at all levels of society. This is the bizarre story of a man who really did, for a very short time, once own all the opium in Hong Kong. If Suzie Wong had been a real person, Peter Hui would have known her. "This is a true story but it reads like a novel. It is a cracking read." - David Tang
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Reviews - What do customers think about King Hui: The Man Who Owned All the Opium in Hong Kong?
How Much Is Truth and How Much Is Fiction? Jun 13, 2008
The nagging question I was left with after reading Jonathan Chamberlain's King Hui: The Man Who Owned All The Opium In Hong Kong was how much was truth and how much was a figment of one man's vivid imagination.
I noticed that even the publisher cautions us stating: "This book reflects the memories of the man known as Peter Hui, or Hui Shen-kei. These memories may not be accurate."
While the author informs us in his introduction that the general consensus among the European community was that you couldn't believe everything Peter told you, as he would say anything to get you to buy him a drink. And as we discover, drinking was one of Peter's favorite pastimes. However, Chamberlain goes on to point out that over the years of listening to Peter there was never any sense of discrepancy or contradiction. In fact, he even set him small subtle tests and he passed all of them and thus he concludes that "he has no doubt at all this is a true story."
The story of Peter Hui, who was not an important man, but according to Chamberlain was a true son of Hong Kong, "a hero in his own way, though most readers will probably see him as an anti-hero."
You can say what you want about Peter however I have to acknowledge he undoubtedly lived an electrifying existence. How could you come to any other conclusion when you have someone who played many characters such as a playboy, gambler, fighter, wartime collaborator with the Japanese, CIA agent, heavy drinker, bribe taker, friend to the rich and poor, father of nine children, restaurant manager, Kung fu hero and a inexhaustible womanizer. He even at one brief time controlled all the opium in Hong Kong.
What is quite apparent about Peter is that from a very young age he understood that in order to survive it was indispensable to have the right associations. He seemed to be acquainted with everybody and saw everything in Hong Kong during the years 1914 until his death in 1993 including the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong and the Communist takeover over Canton. To put it another way, he was quite adept at adapting to any changing situation no matter who was occupying Hong Kong and weather at the time he was poor or rich. However, one of his shortcomings was that he was a terrible spendthrift who didn't understand how to keep money in his pockets. As a result, he often found himself borrowing from his friends.
As for Peter's work philosophy he believed that it was useless to labor twelve hours a day for very little money when he could count on his drinking buddies to booze it up and from whom from time to time he could tap for money. Although Peter believed he did some foolish things in his life and he may have even been corrupt, he never considered himself to be a criminal. He held that fundamentally he was a good person and not evil as he did come to the aid of more people than he harmed.
Unfortunately, Peter wound up broke and what is so tragic was that he was alienated from his own family, as most of his children had shunned him.
Chamberlain does a masterful job of relaying to his readers Peter's voice as he peels away a life that is as incredulous as the world that contained it. Moreover, as he spins his engaging tale, readers get a good taste of the intoxicating good times he enjoyed, while at the same time questioning his priorities and self-interest in not providing more for his family.
Basically, the story is a great yarn, however, I would have liked to have read what others thought of Peter, particularly his close associates and family.
Norm Goldman, Publisher & Editor Bookpleasures
An entertaining story from a born raconteur Apr 29, 2008
I won't say, "The story was so gripping that I couldn't put the book down", but the narrative was sufficiently interesting and well told that I read the book over a weekend.
Through the author, the protagonist Peter "King" Hui recounts his life as a disreputable playboy growing up and living in Hong Kong from the 1920s through the 1960s. I say "protagonist" because this oral history resonates with enough hyperbole to qualify as part fiction.
Nevertheless, Hui paints himself as a likable, if not altogether admirable, hero, whose Kung Fu was so stellar that he never lost a fight and whose personality was so magnetic that the normally demure Hong Kong women were fighting to have him.
The story has choice nuggets describing Chinese culture that may be new and surprising to even those who consider themselves "old China hands". Born into a well-off family and attending Hong Kong's best English-language school for locals, Hui interacted with a number of those who subsequently made fortunes or squandered what they had inherited.
It was interesting to note, however, that Hui mentions virtually no connections with any British colonialists - a testament perhaps to the strict racial segregation that lasted in the colony until the late 1960s.
I've already recommended this book to a colleague in Hong Kong and would do so for anyone who knows the city and is interested in both its people and history.