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Indelible City

Indelible City: Dispossession and Defiance in Hong Kong

Louisa Lim

  • awardShortlisted, Stella Prize, 2023
  • awardShortlisted, Non-Fiction, Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, 2023
  • awardShortlisted, Non-Fiction, Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, 2023
  • awardShortlisted, Walkley Book Award, 2022
  • awardShortlisted, The University of Queensland Non-Fiction Book Award, Queensland Literary Awards, 2023
  • The story of Hong Kong has long been obscured by competing myths: to Britain, a ‘barren rock’ with no appreciable history; to China, a part of Chinese soil from time immemorial that had at last returned to the ancestral fold. To its inhabitants, the city was a place of refuge and rebellion, whose own history was so little taught that they began mythmaking their own past.

    When protests erupted in 2019 and were met with escalating suppression from Beijing, Louisa Lim—raised in Hong Kong as a half-Chinese, half-English child, and now a reporter who had covered the region for a decade—realised that she was uniquely positioned to unearth Hong Kong’s untold stories.

    Lim’s deeply researched and personal account is startling, casting new light on key moments: the British takeover in 1842, the negotiations over the 1997 return to China, and the future Beijing seeks to impose. Indelible City features guerrilla calligraphers, amateur historians and archaeologists who, like Lim, aim to put Hong Kongers at the centre of their own story.

    Wending through it all is the King of Kowloon, whose iconic street art both embodied and inspired the identity of Hong Kong—a site of disappearance and reappearance, power and powerlessness, loss and reclamation.


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    Louisa Lim
    About the Author

    Louisa Lim is the author of The People’s Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited (2014), which was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize and the Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism. She covered China and Hong Kong for a decade as a correspondent for the BBC and NPR, and has reported for the New York Times, Washington Post and ...

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    Text publication date:
    3 May 2022
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    Praise for Louisa Lim
    andIndelible City

    ‘The best book about the indelible city to date. Irresistibly real and emotionally authentic, it shines with a shimmering light rarely seen in political narrative. A truly extraordinary elegy.’

    ‘I absolutely loved this book. Each page is a revelation about a city whose history I thought I knew well. Lim’s exploration of Hong Kong’s identity is insightful, refreshing and entirely original.’

    ‘An utterly brilliant and original ode to Hong Kong, throbbing with eccentricity and sense of place. Like Joseph Mitchell’s singular rendering of New York, Lim’s Hong Kong will be read decades from now as an indelible portrait.’

    ‘I read Louisa Lim’s book slowly, haunted by memories and stymied by sorrow. An archaeological dig into the disappearing present, her fascinating and heartbreaking account reveals an indelible history hidden in plain sight, and a future that Hong Kong’s unique sensibility promises even as the world’s most powerful autocracy strives to erase it.’

    ‘Lim deftly weaves her way through the ages, arriving at our current time, all the while capturing Hong Kong’s soul inside the book’s pages.’

    ‘Lim…mixes memoir and reportage in this riveting portrait of Hong Kong. Interweaving an up-close view of recent protests against Chinese rule with evocative details about Hong Kong’s colonial past, [Indelible City] is a vivid and vital contribution to postcolonial history.’

    ‘Lim’s outstanding history of Hong Kong is an epic must-read, covering Hong Kong from its earliest beginnings to the 2019–20 protests. From the first page, the importance of language and the voices of Hong Kongers are central themes. Yet Indelible City captures much more as it records the struggle of people oppressed by British colonialism and suppressed by communist China yet determined in their pursuit of freedom and cultural identity.’

    ‘An affecting portrayal of the spirited nature of Hong Kong and the many challenges it faces.’

    ‘Extraordinary…A must-read for our times…Honours the vibrancy of Hong Kong, its contradictions and the people who fought for it.’

    ‘Unapologetically personal…The engine for this vivid, loving book is Lim’s insistent questioning—her recognition that whatever comes next for Hong Kong will require not only fortitude but also willful acts of imagination.’

    ‘Illuminating…[Lim] writes mostly as a coolly objective observer, but opens with an account of crossing the line into activism…Though dominated by events since 1997, Indelible City also attempts a revisionist telling of Hong Kong’s history.’

    Indelible City dismantles the received wisdom about Hong Kong’s history and replaces it with an engaging, exhaustively researched account of its long struggle for sovereignty.’

    ‘The book is a celebration of an exceptional city and its colourful characters, particularly an eccentric artist known as the “King of Kowloon”. But reading it was also a mourning process for those—like me—who share the author’s assessment of recent events…Indelible City is an important book which will help keep the city, as many remember it, alive.’

    ‘An ambitious project and a grand achievement, blending reportage and memoir to tell the story of a city caught between two competing narratives…Indelible City demonstrates the power of words in ways readers might not expect.’

    ‘Lim’s discovery is that for those not handed a ready-made identity at birth, it is hard won yet uniquely powerful once gained. Of course, this too is the story of Hong Kong…Lim captures the heroism of futility—of a unique society and a distinct voice on the brink of vanishing forever.’

    Indelible City is more than a book: it is a haunting testimonial to the intertwined vitality, tragedy and hope of Hong Kong. Louisa Lim weaves together three powerful narratives to tell this city’s story…Unforgettable reading…If academic or journalistic work on China in the age of the National Security Law, concentration camps and genocide is to have any meaning at all beyond its own vapid self-reproduction, it must embrace an activist ethos—of which Indelible City is an outstanding example.’

    ‘This is the best of boots-on-the-ground journalism that has a real sense of immediacy.’

    ‘I devoured Indelible City by Louisa Lim, a punk history of Hong Kong.’

    ‘Gorgeously evocative…An intimate and dream-like wend through the streets of Hong Kong, revealing layers of the bracing, complex, and palimpsestic city. Pierced through with Lim’s clear-eyed limpidity and passion…By weaving together multiple histories and narratives, those real and fictive, sanctioned and preserved, erased and newly discovered, Lim pushes back against the authoritative, state-imposed narrative.’

    ‘My favourite read of the past 12 months…[Indelible City] paints a complex and often tragic picture of Hong Kong’s life and culture under successive colonisers.’

    ‘With lyricism, Lim evokes the modern Hong Kong she grew up in…Intimate and meticulously researched, Indelible City is an exquisite literary act of truth-telling.’

    ‘If you’re thinking of visiting Hong Kong, Louisa Lim’s Indelible City is necessary reading.’

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