King Hui: The Man Who Owned All the Opium in Hong Kong


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By Jonathan Chamberlain

with a foreword by Sir David Tang

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 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 Hong Kong!

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 Chinese perspective.

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.

Look inside this book
Click on the following link to view sample pages from King Hui. You will need a pdf reader to view this excerpt. 



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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.


“A remarkably 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, HK Magazine

“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, Asia Times  >Read the above review in Chinese here.

“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.” Paul Mozur, Far Eastern Economic Review

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. Inside-Out China

Author Jonathan Chamberlain was featured in the “How I Write” column in Time Out

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 hero?” Cairns Media Magazine

“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.” Norm Goldman, BookPleasures

Author Jonathan Chamberlain spoke to the South China Morning Post about his schooldays in Hong Kong.

“Peter Hui once owned all the opium in Hong Kong… and his life and exploits have filled a book. … 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

Macau newspaper Ponto Final printed this item by Marta Curo (in Portuguese).

Written in 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. Hemlock’s Diary

“Jonathan 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.

揭富豪臭史 這是一位旅港英國作家幫一個長洲阿伯寫的口述歷史,阿伯叫「許爺」,書名說他擁有香港所有鴉片也許是誇張了,實情是他小時跟父親上煙館、大時開賭檔、群過 黑社會、食過大茶飯,他曾為侵華的日本人賣力,到日軍撤退時跟他立約,將在香港倉庫的鴉片都贈予他,結果英軍一來,他的鴉片全被充公了,前後可能不夠兩星 期。 許爺毫不掩飾自己的流氓生活,但中間許多跟他交手的人,後來都變成一代富豪,於是此書最精彩之處,就是揭露了許多當代富豪也不過靠做流氓起家:利希慎命喪 鴉片、霍英東私運軍火、鄧肇堅的五妾勾漢等等。《何東傳》呈現的舊香港,是一個精英盡出、生機處處的社會,這本書呈現的卻是嫖、賭、飲、蕩、吹齊備的大笪 地,一班富豪像《水滸傳》裏的綠林好漢,藉兵荒馬亂殺出血路。 英籍作者在序言說,香港的真實味道就像臭豆腐,在艷麗刺激的醬汁之下,就是發臭的豆腐,他寫的正是這城市的臭豆腐歷史。 Books4You

Find out 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).” bc magazine

Sometimes 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. Fiction Asia

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 。 Next Magazine

Additional information

Weight 450 g
Dimensions 140 × 216 mm




About the author

Jonathan Chamberlain was brought up in Ireland and Hong Kong. After graduating in Social Anthropology at Sussex University, he returned to Hong Kong where he lived for many years as a teacher and writer. He is now a full time author. His other works include Cancer: The Complete Recovery Guide which is available from

In addition to his writing work, Jonathan has founded two charities: The Hong Kong Down Syndrome Association and Mental Handicap Network China.