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Dung Kai-Cheung

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

(1967-    ) Chinese author, and sometime university lecturer, who studied comparative literature at the University of Hong Kong, writing his M Phil dissertation on Marcel Proust. Strongly influenced by the Oulipo movement, Dung's work is thick with Fabulation, including evolutionary histories of non-existent species, descriptions of fantastic cities, and Equipoisal recursions.

A native of a Hong Kong that has been variously a Cantonese backwater, British colony, global entrepot and Chinese Special Administrative Region, Dung retains a fascination with the power, or lack thereof, of names and naming. "Shaonian Shen Nong" (1994 venue unknown; trans Ian Chapman as "The Young Shen Nong" 1997 Renditions) retells a story from Chinese mythology, but injects observations that run counter to previous accounts, from a narrator only too aware of the slippery grasp that words exert on reality. Mingzi de Meigui ["The Rose of the Name"] (1997) alludes to Umberto Eco's Il nome della rosa (1980; trans William Weaver as The Name of the Rose 1983), but as the title implies, also draws on misprisions, malapropisms and mistranslations to drive its narrative (see Linguistics). Writing itself is a common theme in Dung's work, in several essay collections and his Di Yiqian Ling'er Ye: Shuo Gushi de Gushi ["The 1002nd Night: The Story of Telling Stories"] (2005), which investigates the metatexts and subtexts of authors including Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Ernest Hemingway and Miguel Cervantes.

Hong Kong, an "invented" City like something out of Italo Calvino, irrepressibly Asian yet largely created by European Imperialism, appears in Dung's work variously as a Keep facing imminent collapse, a placeless, hybridized creature that cannot even decide on its gender, or an unknowable Other described with baffled Sense of Wonder by outsiders. Published in Taiwan at the time of the Hong Kong Handover, Dituji: Yi ge Xiangxiang de Chengshi de Kaoguxue (1997; rev 2011; trans Dung Kai-cheung, Anders Hansson and Bonnie S McDougall as Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City 2012) is presented as a future archive of essays and reportage that attempts to reconstruct the History of the lost city of "Victoria", soon revealed as incomplete and often inaccurate shards of Hong Kong, in a sustained, deadpan Satire of pedantic academics, clueless foreign pundits and materialist natives unaware that they feature in the maps of others. Later writings revisit the City as enduring backdrop to humanity, such as Dung's tripartite novel Shijian Fanshi ["Histories of Time"] (2007), which looks in on a cast of characters in the years 2005, 2022 and 2097, contrasting transient moments and unchanging truths.

Conceived as a centennial literary homage to Sōseki Natsume's Kokoro (1914 Asahi Shinbun; trans Edwin McClellan 1957), Dung's Trilogy of Spiritual History begins in Xin ["Heart"] (2016) with an exploration of the physicality of romance, in which a married couple are separated by an academic appointment overseas. By its second volume, it has transformed, like Atlas, into an investigation of the Matter of Hong Kong, as conceived through Proustian remembrances. [For Matter see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below.] With its third volume, Aiqi ["Beloved Wife"] (2018), it both returns to the concerns of the first volume but also drifts into sf. The potential migration of the human soul to the Internet, and the very concept of a "long-distance romance" in the days of social media, cause an expat professor to confuse, perhaps facetiously, the identities of his absent wife and the post-graduate student with whom he is conducting an affair.

NB: pronunciations given in the checklist below are in Pinyin for all books, regardless of whether published pre- or post-Handover, in Cantonese-speaking Hong Kong or in Mandarin-speaking Taiwan, where the author's name is read as Dong Qizhang. Such distinctions may seem byzantine and confusing to the lay reader; ironically, this renders them very much in the spirit of the author's work. [JonC]

Dung Kai-cheung

born Hong Kong: 1967

works (selected)


Trilogy of Spiritual History

  • Xin ["Heart"] (Taipei: Linking Publishing, 2016) [Trilogy of Spiritual History: binding unknown/]
  • Shen ["God"] (Taipei: Linking Publishing, 2017) [Trilogy of Spiritual History: binding unknown/]
  • Aiqi ["Beloved Wife"] (Taipei: Linking Publishing, 2018) [Trilogy of Spiritual History: binding unknown/]

individual titles

about the author

  • Lingchei Lettie Chen, "Hong Kong Androgynous: Embodying Cultural Hybridity and Dung Kai-cheung's Dual Body" in Writing Chinese: Reshaping Chinese Cultural Identity (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006) [hb/]


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