The Man Who Owned All the Opium in Hong Kong
foreword by Sir
ASIAN STUDIES / ORAL HISTORY
From the start of the Korean war to the end of
the Vietnam war, Hong Kong was a major R&R centre for soldiers and
sailors. And there were thousands of local people who made their money
making sure these visitors had a good time and got the suits and the girls
they wanted. In fact they didn’t just wait for their customers to arrive –
they sailed out in a flotilla of small boats to greet the ships as they
entered the harbour. And then, when the ships had anchored, they shimmied
up the anchor chain to be the first to get the orders for shirts and
trousers. These were the tailor shop order men. Peter Hui was one of them.
But who was Peter? What was his story?
Well, before he took to being a tailor he
had been a famous kung fu fighter; a rich playboy, a regular frequenter of
the pleasure houses of Macau; a gambler (he had run three gambling joints
in Canton when the Communists walked in); the brains behind a gang of
armed robbers (he alone escaped arrest when their third robbery went
wrong); an associate of triads – and, before all that, he had been the
owner of the biggest string of Mongolian ponies at the Hong Kong Jockey
Club – that was during the war years when he was a leading collaborator of
the Japanese. He had once, for a very short time, owned all the opium in
Later, after his tailoring days had gone
flat, he was paid by a CIA officer to report on events in China. This was
during the tumultuous years of the Cultural Revolution, when Red Guard
factions fought amongst each other.
Some periods in history are best
illuminated by the stories of men and women who lived through them. This
is one of those stories. 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
colony of Hong Kong through most of the years of the 20th century.
This is the true, bizarre story of a man
who knew everybody and saw everything. He wasn’t a wicked man. He was just
trying to get by, like everyone else. This is his truly fascinating story.
And yet this book is not just one man’s
story. It is the story of a time and place – colonial Hong Kong,
Portuguese Macau and the south China hinterland between Hong Kong and
Canton – seen from the unique point of view of a man who was at home at
all levels of society. There are, for example, no other published accounts
of the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong as seen from the non-combatant
The World of Suzie Wong was a best-selling
novel in the 1960s – and this story is its background. If Suzie had been a
real girl, Peter would have known her.
"This is a true story but it reads like a
novel. It is a cracking read." – Sir David Tang
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"From time to
time, I have the pleasure of meeting a person who can recount an episode
of his or her life that is so captivating, I cease to care whether or not
I believe the storyteller. I even know a few people who are full of such
stories. I have never, however, had the delight of meeting someone with
the breadth of stories told in King Hui: The Man who Owned all the
Opium in Hong Kong by Jonathan Chamberlain.
These are the stories, presented as a first person narrative, of Peter
(Shen-Kei) Hui, an uncommon, though largely unknown, man with an
astounding range of experience. Told shortly before his death at the age
of 79 in 1993, the stories reflect not only the
man, but also the times he lived through." –
King Hui author
Jonathan Chamberlain was featured in the "How I Write"
"King Hui gives
an insightful, street-side view of Hong Kong through the 20th century. The
turbulent events battering Hui and others turn this eye-witness account
into a solid history book... Hui’s colorful memories and lively narrative
will inform and entertain most readers, but he’s very self-serving.
Reading King Hui forces a judgment call. Was Peter Hui a rogue or
Cairns Media Magazine
"Mr. Hui, whose luck was
as fickle as Hong Kong’s modern history, claims to have bounced from rags
to riches more than once, in the process encountering opium dens,
brothels, Hong Kong’s pre-World War II high society, Japanese occupiers
and Red Guards. Because of his whimsical attitude toward money and
underworld and upper-class connections, Mr. Hui’s tales range across
almost every imaginable stratum of Hong Kong society..." –
Far Eastern Economic Review
"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." –
"Hui’s story gives us
glimpses of a Hong Kong – the opium dens, the
pool halls, the nightclubs, the casinos and the girls, girls, girls –
not adequately reflected in official histories of the city. Suzie Wong,
the cinematic representation of the Hong Kong of this era, could have been
Hui's girlfriend – at least before William
Holden butted in.
...The book's biggest achievement, however, is that its protagonist’s
triumphs and tragedies wind up underscoring the dynamism of the city and
the times that shaped him." – Kent Ewing,
>Read the above review
Chamberlain spoke to the South China Morning Post's David Phair
about his schooldays in Hong Kong.
"Peter Hui once owned
all the opium in Hong Kong... and his life and exploits have filled a
...Hui's account of his life and times is rendered in snappy,
colour-filled sentences; he boasts of good looks in his youth and his
abilities as a fighter.
...Hui had a good memory. His aptitude for recalling dialogue, atmosphere
and colour, combined with Chamberlain's dexterity in retelling his tale,
often give the book the air of that novel Hui suggested."
– Annemarie Evans, Sunday Morning Post.
Read the article here.
"Based on the real life
story of the man who claimed to control all the dope in Hongkers and who
became a major political player and a CIA agent during the Cultural
Revolution. Good story... Told in the first person, which we’d normally
find annoying, but strangely works for this book." –
accessible depiction of life under British and Japanese control... it
effectively exposes the sordid underbelly of colonial society as we're led
down a path of scandal, corruption, drugs, espionage, and of course
pirates, providing a fascinating alternative to the often stuffy discourse
on the subject. The book is an incredibly informative read, and a must for
all Hong Kong enthusiasts." – Sam Burrough,
Macau daily newspaper
Ponto Final printed this item by
Marta Curo (in Portuguese).
the first person, it is a rich account of Hong Kong (and at times
Guangzhou) as seen at street-level: family life, food, schools, shops, and
corruption, vice and squalor, set against a backdrop of colonial rule,
Japanese invasion and communist revolution. The details are often
fascinating; for example, details about how some Hongkongers prospered
under Japanese occupation. For anyone who wonders what Hong Kong must have
been like in those days – the sort of people who look in amazement at
Hedda Morrison’s barely recognisable low-rise, third-world town – this is
the main reason to read this book." –
Chamberlain is a writer with over 30 books under his belt. His latest is
the story of Peter Hui, a man who once owned all the opium in colonial
Hong Kong." Read the interview by HK Magazine's Pavan Shamdasani here.
about ‘King’ Hui’s accounts of the Japanese invasion and occupation of Hong
Kong, the murder of Lee Hysan, the communist takeover of Guangzhou
and many other important 20th century events in Jonathan Chamberlain’s
“true story [that] reads like a novel. A cracking read” (Hong
Kong personality David Tang Wing-cheung)."
truth can be a lot stranger than fiction, and that presents writers with
another option: identifying and telling interesting stories that are based
on fact. When I lived on an island off Hong Kong
about fifteen years ago, a dapper little octogenarian called Peter Hui
always had a friendly smile and a kind word for everyone. I took him for a
nice old gent; a fellow-islander and writer called Jonathan Chamberlain
recognised in him a story worth telling, and sat down with Peter for many
many hours of tape-recorded interviews. And now, long after Peter’s death
– and perhaps because Peter has passed on, considering the sensitivity of
some of the information shared – those interviews have resulted in a
fascinating book published in Hong Kong by Blacksmith Books."
"爵士有火鄧永鏘：政府Bad Taste 上海灘老闆鄧永鏘最近被英女皇封為KBE，個爵士銜頭仲高過佢阿爺鄧肇堅。回歸後個個富豪爭住擦北京鞋，大堆政協、人大銜頭，唯獨大偉唔肯埋堆，呢幾年封爵港人愈來愈少，佢今次真係吐氣揚眉。
大偉最近幫個朋友的口述歷史寫序，書名係《King Hui: The Man Who Owned All The Opium In Hong Kong》，講一個香港姓許阿伯以前點同富豪打交道，據說揭露好多黑材料，大偉個序言話呢先係香港的真實歷史。老友話個序已算客氣，原來大偉新書發布會大鬧政府Bad Taste，拆晒舊建築、趕絕小販檔，以為起大商場就叫國際都會，最激係鬧立法會議員又冇見識，所以佢揚言要寄六十本書俾班議員睇
Author Jonathan Chamberlain
spoke to RTHK Radio 3's Sarah Passmore on 5th
December. Listen in online at the