The voyage to Hong Kong : bildungsroman in Hong Kong literature of the 1950s

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As a result of the political instability of mainland China in the 1940s, millions of mainland Chinese fled to Hong Kong for shelter. In 1949, the population of Hong Kong was estimated at 1.86 million. It drastically increased to 2.06 million in 1950. At the end of the 1950s, the population had increased to 3,023,300. The millions of newcomers, Chinese from different provinces were crammed into a small piece of land. Major novels of the 1950s addressed the lives of these immigrants, such as Cao Juren’s (1900-72) The Hotel (1952), Lú Lun’s (1911-88) Poverty Lane (1952), and Zhao Zifan’s (1924-86) Struggle of Humanism (1953). The term refugee literature (nanmin wenxue) is used to describe the literature of this generation (Nan 1985). In the following, I regard the journey from mainland China to Hong Kong as a journey of growth, and attempt to examine the refugee literature from the point of view of the Bildungsroman, or novel of formation. The genre of the Bildungsroman disseminates stories about the adolescent self and society. In reading refugee literature as Bildungsroman, society is regarded as a place of instability, and this unstable socio-political factor becomes crucial in reading the narrative. The adolescent self or the immigrant did not begin the journey as an individual quest; she or he left home because of an unfavourable social environment. If the immigrants perceived the new environment as unfavourable or even negative, in what ways could individual growth be generated? If the new environment did not allow the growing youth to adopt the values of the older generation, what new values were formulated? How do characters in 1950s Hong Kong refugee literature negotiate historically significant contradictions of the 1950s: that is, between mainland China and Hong Kong, the political left and the political right, the past and the present, the village and the city, male and female? This essay examines three models of the Bildungsroman that offer complicated responses to the contradictions their protagonists encounter. It also calls attention to a group of “southbound literati” that is seldom discussed, either because of their political background or their perspective that does not fit into mainstream refugee literature.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDiasporic Histories: Cultural Archives of Chinese Transnationalism
PublisherHong Kong University Press
Number of pages13
ISBN (Print)9789622090804
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2009


  • Bildungsroman
  • Hong Kong literature
  • Southbound-literati


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