Emperors Once More

Emperors Once More Author : Duncan Jepson
Country : China

I]t’s time we changed everything, asserted ourselves again, become again the great Middle Kingdom that once ruled Asia for thousands of years. We Chinese are no longer second-class citizens. This time it’s our world – yet at present we are still beholden to them [the West]. (Jepson 2014: 119)

Hong Kong, 2017. Detective Alex Soong of the Hong Kong police investigates the apparently motiveless execution of two Methodist ministers on the eve of a crisis summit for world economic leaders which is to take place in the city. Soong soon realises the executions are more than arbitrary assassinations. They are part of a conspiracy led by Seng Pok, a religious fanatic obsessed with the Boxer Rebellion, who wants to trigger an uprising “to restore China to its rightful place … fulfilling a destiny that will wipe away the hundreds of years of humiliation we have suffered” (Jepson 2014: 275). The author draws comparisons between China’s colonial past and contemporary neo-colonial practices that aim at taking advantage of China’s resources. The novel also highlights that, over the centuries, Chinese citizens have reacted against Western abusive policies in the country, where “millions of poor and dispossessed … repeatedly rose from the yellow earth … to make their voices heard and change” (Jepson 2014: 5). However, in the novel, uprisings like the Boxer Rebellion are exposed as a failure characterized by superstition, blood-lust and ineptitude. In fact, revolutions in general, like the 1967 revolts in Hong Kong against the British administration, are frowned upon in Jepson’s novel since they result only in hundreds of victims and traumatized individuals like Seng Pok himself, who is, after all, moved by “an underlying rage and fury that stems from more than just politics” (Jepson 2014: 371). Consequently, Seng Pok is not presented as a true revolutionary and is written off by the Western-educated protagonist as “crazy,” (Jepson 2014: 324) “fucking deluded” (Jepson 2014: 326) or “a vicious madman” (Jepson 2014: 345). Even though Jepson situates his story in the ex-colony of Hong Kong, he does not intend to denounce the abuse of locals by the British administration before 1997 or to address the difficult relationship between contemporary Hong Kong citizens and mainland China. He is concerned, instead, with undertaking a defence of progress based on the adoption of Western values since, in contemporary China, “[p]eople need to be encouraged to move forward, not hurled back hundreds of years” (Jepson 2014: 401).

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