第1章 Foreword Summons and Meditations(1)
WHEN I FIRST heard that Zhang Yawen was planning to write an account of Hong Kong's return to the Mainland, I found myself unable to suppress my doubts—of which there were two.
The first: as a writer, Zhang Yawen tends to focus on emotions. Her works, including some of her most influential masterpieces, are people-centered. Her Lu Xun Prize-winning book "Life Is a Struggle" is a work of pure autobiography, drawing solely on her own life for material. Some of her books have indeed been about international issues, including A Chinese Woman at Gestapo Gunpoint, The Korean President's Chinese Physician, and Life and Death in Russia, but these books all have a clear common thread: their scope is limited, with compact, relatively straightforward casts of characters.
Hong Kong's return to the mainland was exactly the opposite. It was history unfolding on a grand scale. Here was a political event that caused an international sensation, and captured the attention of the entire Chinese nation. Its background was so complex, its repercussions so far felt, its process so torturous, its influence so vast, that it cannot be compared with more run-of-the-mill topics. Any author hoping to come to grips with such a topic must be intensely rational and conscientious, and must have a knack for politics. How much preparation would Zhang—who took up her pen after a career as an athlete—have to do to be able to lift this mountainous burden?
The second doubt I had was that in the 16 years since Hong Kong's return, there have been any number of works on the subject, not a few of which were quite influential. The "hot topic" school of writing emphasizes timeliness and proximity to the subject; with so much time having passed since the event in question, in revisiting it would Zhang be able to develop a fresh take? And would readers take an interest? Knowing Zhang Yawen's skills and temperament, I knew she wouldn't be content with a warmed-over rehash, but would rather seek to dig treasure out of oft-excavated ground. This is easier said than done.
I was, therefore, worried for her.
But she, more than anyone, is clear on her strengths and her weaknesses. And in taking on this topic, she committed herself to another long leg on her journey as a writer. Like when she was a speed skater, she took to the track and didn't look back. This would be a test of her mastery over the subject, of her strength, skills, and endurance; ever more so it would test her spirit, her intellect, her will, and her character. Zhang Yawen put it all on the line: the whole of her accumulated abilities, the whole of her soaring passion, all of her honor and dignity.
In the end, she reached the finish line victorious. And it's fair to say that, during the course of this contest of will, Zhang Yawen outdid herself.
The book we now have before us, The Summons of Centuries Past, brings to life before our eyes more than 170 years of tumult and upheaval, guiding in history's endless footsteps, from the Qing Dynasty (1636-1912)'s signing of the humiliating Treaty of Nanjing imposed by the English invaders, through Hong Kong's return, up through the present day. At the same time, she draws out precise cross sections of any number of historic turning points, describing in detail their implications for post-return Hong Kong, her pen pointing at the world (and trying to illustrate it), facing it all head-on. In The Summons of Centuries Past, Zhang Yawen writes, "I visited Hong Kong twice, staying more than a month each time. I know that Hong Kong is a difficult book to read, and not one that I, a traveler hurrying past, can master, or even fully understand. My knowledge and understanding of Hong Kong are superficial—only skin-deep. I can only offer my reader, from the perspective of a traveler hurrying past, what I have seen, heard, thought, and felt."
It's true that Hong Kong is a book not easily deciphered, much less written, and Zhang did herself no favors with her chosen methodology—straight-on frontal assault. But she has dared to brave difficulties, dared to aim high, dared to challenge herself, her passion, her sense of destiny igniting her latent talent, her extraordinary ability bursting forth, taking on the mantle of a writer. This book is a narrative for the ages, an information-rich record of Hong Kong's entire journey home, and an innovative, weighty masterpiece that builds on its many antecedent works.
What most struck me as I read The Summons of Centuries Past was the author's ability to reconjure the past shocks of history, to make its chimes resound in the ear. It forced me to revisit once again the suffering and humiliation of recent Chinese history, reinvoking the memories to which we cannot bear to return. It was these memories that inspired the rulers of the New China founded since 1949, and a group of the Chinese nation's most outstanding sons and daughters, to rise up, seeking to avenge past disgrace, and to realize our countrymen's century-long dream. Those people who changed the course of history—be they leaders with the grand ambitions of great men, love for their subjects, awe-inspiring righteousness, and the wisdom to govern; or be they the officials and societal elites who, honor-bound to fight on, brought to the process an ardent dedication, a scrupulous adherence to duty, and relentless effort—all, without exception, deserve our utmost respect. In bold-yet-meticulous strokes, the author paints for us a series of group portraits, recording these individuals' achievements, recreating how they turned the page on a new era of history, and imparting how the bells of history were made to give forth a new song. The author has taken up her pen to record the truth of history, drawing strength from her sense of justice, opening our eyes to self-evident truths, her passion bringing her story alive, leaving the reader with a renewed sense of purpose and vigilance.