Portraits

Chinese amahs once formed a strong sorority that eschewed marriage for life-long domestic service in the well-to-do households of Hong Kong. Many were known for their devotion to their employers and the most loyal became well-respected members of the household.

 

Kipling to the contrary, East and West mingled and even married in the cosmopolitan mix of colonial Hong Kong. Despite being censured by traditionalists of both the East and the West, mixed marriages happened from the earliest days when the colony was a remote outpost for ambitious taipans. In those days Chinese women who opted for foreign companions ran the risk of subtle social disapproval. Today such prejudice would seem an outmoded denial of the very essence of a cultural mix that is essentially Hong Kong.

The particular magic of Peking Opera was conjured from a host of conventions that, for centuries, carried audiences far beyond the noisy, crowded theatre at the makeshift stage beside a village temple. A single gesture had the power to transport an audience to a vast plain where a general awaited the advance of his foes. Pure realism was shunned; it was sheer theatricality, and a rich repertoire of symbolic gestures, that allowed the story to unfold.

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