Photo of the New Territories by countries in colors used under a Creative Commons license.

Austin Coates, Myself A Mandarin (Oxford University Press China, 1988).
As a young man, soon after World War II, Coates went to Hong Kong to work in the civil service. Three years later, he became a magistrate in the New Territories, deciding civil disputes in rural villages which had been bypassed by the twentieth century. Another person in his circumstances might have insisted on applying British common law, but Coates was fortunate enough not to know any of it, and instead had to use his wits to find the just resolution which would be accepted by all sides to a dispute. Many chapters are devoted to memorable cases; none disappoint. (This book can be found in bookstores in Hong Kong, but good luck tracking down a copy elsewhere.)

Here is Wikipedia’s entry about Coates, who spent much of the rest of his life in Hong Kong. Here’s an excerpt. Kay Danielson appreciated the author’s bafflement at deciphering indirect communication and managing the cultural minefields of face, ceremony and duty. James Garriss calls it delightful. Rory Boland considers it a classic book about the city. Coates’ cows went feral, apparently. Nell Freudenberger picked it as her favorite obscure book.

Advertisements