Chronology of Christopher New's China Coast Trilogy

Tamara S. Wagner, Fellow, National University of Singapore

Three of Christopher New's five novels have become known as his China Coast Trilogy, as they trace the interlinked lives of a group of Europeans, Chinese, and Eurasians against the background of the Empire's decline and fall.

The Chinese Box was New's fictional debut when it was published in 1975. Set in Hong Kong during the time of the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s, it tells the story of Dimitri Johnston, his disillusioned wife, and his mistress, Mila, a Chinese ballet dancer. Half Russian and half English and in love with a Chinese woman, Dimitri is caught up in the racial politics of a colonial society and the political upheavals in China.

Published in 1985, after Goodbye Chairman Mao (1979), Shanghai is actually New's third novel. Within the Trilogy's internal chronology, however, it forms a prequel to The Chinese Box, detailing high and low life in Shanghai at the turn of the century. John Denton arrives in 1903 to make his fortune. His immense success and then his shady dealings become the subject of much retrospective contemplation (engaged in by his son Michael) and by proxy even historical research in A Change of Flag.

Continuing New's retrospective reassessment of Hong Kong's last colonial days, started in The Chinese Box, and emphatically underlining the parallels to Shanghai's fate, A Change of Flag is set in the early eighties, against the background of the political negotiations of the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997. Rachel, the American stepdaughter of Jenny Denton, John Denton's daughter and Michael's half-sister, comes to Hong Kong as a postgraduate student. Her two equally incompetent supervisors are Michael's flamboyant nephew Patrick and Dimitri Johnston. Linking the lives of similarly related characters -- predominantly comprising the grown-up children of Dimitri, now married to Mila, as well as of Michael and his Chinese wife, Grace -- the novel is perhaps New's most panoramic work.

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Last Modified: 8 October 2002