About Xi Xi’s My City
The earliest edition of My City, published by Su-yeh Publications, only contains one-third of the original serialization. There is no preface or appendices, only the main text, along with some drawings. In that edition, everything is simple, but it is still possible to read it.
At that time, very few publishers in Hong Kong were willing to publish highbrow literature. Su Yeh Publications was founded by Xi Xi and her friends to publish literary works in Hong Kong, including poetry, fiction, and prose. The authors received neither remuneration nor royalties.
The revenue from the sale of books was used for publishing other works. Initially, only thin books could be published, and in fact Su Yeh is a homophonic translation of “several pages.” And the slender first edition of My City sold out immediately.
Xi Xi’s thoughts on My City
Xi Xi, Ho Fuk-Yan: “How to Speak Nonsense: On My City”
I didn’t think I should continue writing existentialist pieces like East Side Story, Joeng is a Fool, and The Sketch. I wanted to write something happier that also “existed” but with a different attitude. At the time, I was struck by other things, for example the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine, Joseph Losey’s Modesty Blaise, Louis Malle’s Zazie in the Subway, and so on. These films are more innovative and interesting, using diverse forms of expression. I thought, why not write a novel this way?…Why not write about young people’s lives in a vivid manner, looking at things from their perspectives? Like the Beatles…At that time, many young people in Hong Kong were just like them, lively and full of vigor, wearing jeans and singing folksongs. What was rare was they were quite reasonable and espoused a sense of justice…They merely did humble work…Despite life’s difficulties, they worked hard, and did it happily. This novel is dedicated to these unsung heroes.
Critics’ views on My City
Ho Fuk-Yan: “One Way of Reading of My City”
The narrator of My City is Fruits, which is also the name under which the novel was published when serialized in a newspaper. But the narrator is not the same as the author, and the author is clearly unwilling to be confined by Fruits’ fixed point-of-view—for example, there is a shift in perspective in the “Nonsense” section. The ingenuity of shifting perspectives is that it produces a flowing rhythm, like a panning shot in a film, allowing the viewpoint to shift from Fruits to Liberty, Braids, Merry Mak, North, and even the idle owner of salted fish on the ferry, the young leadership trainee on the beach of a deserted island, and Swim who works as an electrician on a ship.
…Neither Liberty, Braids, Merry Mak, nor North speaks as “I” (“I” sometimes turns into “you,” as in Chapter 10), because Fruits is the only “I.” However, the tone and spirit of their voices correspond to Fruits’, and they mutually support each other. Why not say “we” instead of “they”? Each “I” has its own vocation, but all of them are based on Fruits. Fruits, who receives technical training and improves himself, who insists on doing a good job whether making doors or guarding them, and who is a seaman-traveler reflecting on the city’s transformations, constantly changing jobs to adjust his relationship with the city.
The multiple “I’s” in My City affirm the value of ordinary people, implying a sense of shared destiny within a community. At the same time, the “I” is aware of the limitations of both the self and the environment, involved in various interpersonal relationships within and outside of the city. Merely one among a group, the “I” is not particularly remarkable and must learn things modestly. Improving the environment begins with self-improvement in an earnest and sincere fashion, united as a community through working together. In this way, the ordinary “I” is extraordinary. That is why the book is called My City instead of Our City.
(Translations on this page are by Chen Yanyi and Jennifer Feeley)
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