Writing from the Obverse: Wong Bik-Wan’s
Fiction and Nostalgia in Hong Kong

By Janet Ng

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 20, no. 1 (Spring 2008), pp. 44-71

This essay is a discussion of Wong Bik-Wan’s stories and novel, Lienutu (Portraits of heroic women). Wong is well known for her distinctive writing style, characterized by violent energy, exorbitant emotions, and sadistic excesses. This intensity is contrary to the bourgeois sensibilities of Hong Kong, which, since the late 20 th century, has been expressed as an unwavering pursuit of capitalist wealth and commodity culture and a strong nostalgic tendency. Old things became fashionable and evoke longing regardless of how they were situated or what they represent in history. Though many of Wong’s works are about memories and history and cover a territory similar to the general nostalgia of the time, her relationship to the past is less sentimental than visceral. The past for her, is not a feeling but a palpable subject. In many ways, they are “invaginations” of conventional nostalgia, (to use a term in tune with the profuse bodily images in her writing) depicting the Hong Kong society from the inside out.

The paradox of past and future, forgetfulness and memory, continuance and obsolescence, pathos and sickness, all figure into Hong Kong people’s sense of contemporary reality. If nostalgia is one side of the paradox, Wong Bik-wan’s fiction constantly provides the other. Wong writes against nostalgia by making evident, viscerally and psychologically the legacies and connections in history.