The Nobility of Failure

Hong Kong Apostasy


A journalist from Apple Daily, a prominent independent media outlet in Hong Kong, used the ancient expression 英雄遲暮 yīng xióng chí mù ‘heroic twilight’ in describing the celebrated novelist and commentator Ni Kuang (倪匡, 1935-).

Born in Shanghai Ni remained on the Mainland after 1949 to seek an education and to contribute to the building of New China. As a soldier in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in Inner Mongolia he found himself under suspicion and persecuted. Following rejection by his fearful family in Shanghai, and after a torturous journey south, Ni snuck across the border to Hong Kong in 1957. In a city of refugees, he would become renowned as a prolific and commercially successful writers churning out science fiction, martial arts novels, romances, adventure stories, thrillers and newspaper columns at the astounding rate of more than 10,000 Chinese characters a day.

Ni Kuang has long been a trenchant critic of the Chinese Communist Party and its surrogate local rulers. At the age of eight-four, and despite encroaching infirmity, he continues to be an enthusiastic, if sardonic, commentator on the political life of his adopted home.

The following interview was published on 13 August 2019 as the heroic protesters of the city — 遲暮英雄 — were nearing a tragic Götterdamerung



In 1988, Ni Kuang made an astute observation on the past of Tibet and the future of Hong Kong (see below). It is nearly thirty years since Linda Jaivin and I translated that material for New Ghosts, Old Dreams: Chinese Rebel Voices (New York: Times Books, 1992). It is heartbreaking, although not surprising, that his observations continue to resonate in 2019.

The title of this latest chapter in our series ‘Hong Kong Apostasy’ — ‘The Nobility of Failure’ — is inspired by Ivan Morris, The Nobility of Failure: Tragic Heroes in the History of Japan (Penguin, 1975).

— Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
14 August 2019


‘Tanks for the Memory’, by Morgan Chua (Chua Heng Soon 蔡興順, 1949-2018). Source: Chua, Tiananmen (1989), reprinted in Barmé and Jaivin, eds, New Ghosts, Old Dreams (1992), p.430


Related Material:



I’ve Seen the Future

We must harbor no illusions about this business of there being ‘no change for fifty years’ [after the Communist takeover of Hong Kong]. Anyone who can leave has to get out of here. Those who can’t have to prepare themselves psychologically for Communist rule. You can’t rebel, you can’t start a revolution, and you can’t be independent. The people of Hong Kong will pay the price for their apathy toward [the drafting of] the Basic Law. No one even tried to make their feelings known to the British prime minister when she came here; it’s as though the great cause of national unity were more important than anything else. But it’s possible to oppose Communist rule; I don’t have much sympathy for those who won’t even try. What could Peking possibly do if just 500,000 of Hong Kong’s five million people took to the streets, boycotted classes, and called a general strike to oppose the return of Hong Kong to China? With the Basic Law, the Communists have already managed to negate the ‘Sino-British Joint Declaration’; they’re taking over step by step….

What’s happening to Hong Kong is exactly like what happened to Tibet when it signed the ‘Agreement on Measures for the Peaceful Liberation of Tibet’ [under duress in 1951]. The Communists say the nicest possible things and then act in the most reprehensible manner. This has always been the way of the Communist Party.

Ni Kuang, September 1988, trans. G.Barmé and Linda Jaivin, eds
New Ghosts, Old Dreams: Chinese Rebel Voices
New York, 1992, pp.431-432

Astute Commentators on the Extradition Bill Protests

Ni Kuang on the Hong Kong Police —
A Tool of the Totalitarian State

He Won’t Reject the Protesters:

‘Having Opposed the Communists for Decades,
Why Would I Support Their PoPo Now?’




Interview by She Kam Hung 佘錦洪

Translated and Annotated by Geremie R. Barmé