A highly evocative tale that carries us back to China which, barely yesterday, was closed and secretive with a government consumed with conspiracies from without and within, and to a Hong Kong still under British rule, a colony seething with spies and counter-spies, a people caught in conflicted politics. What is loyalty? What is betrayal?

Fact compels this fictional narrative and startles into life this turbulent decade in Chinese history, in which Hong Kong itself is part of the drama and Harris’s hero uncovers an awful political truth. Harris knows the story of this world and writes it like no other, with power, pace and persuasion.

Professor Stephen Fitzgerald, one time habitué of Hong Kong  and former Australian Ambassador to China.

Romance and intrigue, triad and political conspiracies converge in this racy companion novel to Adam and Lily. Set in Hong Kong and China as the Cultural Revolution exhausts itself and a senile Chairman Mao fades from the scene, China’s future leadership is up for grabs. The novel raises the horrifying spectre of that future under the crazed Madam Mao and her Gang of Four cohorts.

Judy Bonavia Boillat – author of ‘The Yangtze River’ and ‘The Silk Road’ published by William Collins and Sons Ltd.

I found the racy spy story, set in Hong King and Beijing at the end of the Mao Zedong period, completely absorbing. It will ring true for those who lived and worked in China in the 70s. For others it will bring those dramatic years to life.

Jocelyn Chey, AM, FAIIA, Visiting Professor, University of Sydney, Australian Consul-General in Hong Kong, 1992-95.

In Store Price: $AU23.95 
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ISBN:   978-1-921919-62-6
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 146
Genre: Fiction

Cover: Clive Dalkins

Front cover photograph of a painting of Tien An Men by Tony Vincent.

Author: A.M. Harris
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2013
Language: English


Chapter One - SAMPLE


dam Kelly’s eyes were fixed carefully on the wide road before him as he drove towards the Hong Kong Government stadium to take part in the Community Chest Walk of that year. A sharp-featured man, the recent sunny days had burned his freshly shaven skin to a dark shade. It was mid-autumn of ’74, and he had always regarded this season as a time for rest and thoughtfulness. Because Sir William Talisman was sitting in the seat beside him, he was reminded of just how much he owed the present peace of his life to this ageing barrister, following that part of his life so compounded of loss and personal despair.

In 1966, as an Australian security officer in Hong Kong, Adam had been responsible for the deportation to China of two corrupt senior Chinese police officers. One was named Eric Cheung, who later worked as an intelligence officer stationed in Canton. The other, James Yuan, had managed to escape from China, determined to murder Adam and a European police officer involved in revealing his corrupt activities.

Yuan had killed the police officer along with his wife. He then attempted to destroy Adam with a fire-bomb when Adam was believed to be driving his car. Instead, he had taken the life Adam’s Korean-born wife Lily, and a woman friend who had been in the vehicle with her. Adam had later engaged Yuan and others in a bloody gun-battle on a lonely island just beyond Hong Kong.

Six years had now gone by since the death of Adam’s wife and during that time he had lived with Sir William. He had moved in with his young son David, taken as a full-term baby from Lily’s body just before her death. The invitation to live with Sir William had been a temporary arrangement which had become permanent, for Talisman was a lonely man who had come first to appreciate then to need the company of his two guests.

Talisman’s home at Stanley had been re-converted and enlarged over the years. Originally constructed from granite mined somewhere in China, it was now a handsome three-storey building with large windows which commanded a fine prospect of Stanley Mound, a high feature with a curved beach below, and the glittering South China Sea to the front. The gardens surrounding the home were laid out in a formal Chinese design with a number of carved lions and dragons tastefully set about. A lake created about rocks imported from Hangzhou allowed a clear waterfall to drop into it, and among shoals of goldfish. The many shrubs in the garden were all selected so that there would always be blossoms about the house.

On that clear morning Adam had now reached the top of Garden Road and he could see how every vista led to that cockpit of a harbour nestling between Hong Kong and Kowloon, busy with the shipping carried on by launches and ferries, junks and lighters and sampans. As he watched he could not but marvel about how dramatically the place had changed in the years he had lived there.

When he had first arrived with Lily some years previously, the Peninsula Hotel had dominated the skyline over in Kowloon. Now one had to look hard to find it among the soaring business and apartment blocks crowding right down to the sea front. On the Hong Kong side the transformation was even more marked. Once, he had regarded it as nothing more than a low-profile port dominated by the gracious, white-facaded Hong Kong Club and the old granite-columned Supreme Court building in its lovely square. But time had passed, people had changed, the world had turned many times.

It had certainly changed for Adam for he had resigned from ASIO, the Australian security organisation responsible for internal intelligence, and he was now employed by ASIS, the acronym for the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, into which he had been recruited to gather foreign intelligence and hopefully to gain access into mainland China. His cover was that of a businessman controlling a buying office with overseas accounts found for him by ASIS. He had recruited trained merchandisers to help run the operation and, included among them, working as office assistants, were his intelligence group of three professionals, headed by a young Chinese, a close friend of long standing named Paul Liang.

Mulling over his past and contemplating his future, Adam knew that life would soon be changing for him and Talisman who, although approaching seventy, was thinking of marrying for the first time. It was his girlfriend Helen who had been the one to suggest that Adam should go on the walk to meet Laura, described by Talisman as a ‘stunner’. Adam had wondered if Helen and Talisman had romance in mind for him, but he was later to fully understand that Helen’s real objective, and his participation, were designed so that he could meet Laura and find out what she had been doing on a recent visit to China. Talisman had passed some information to him about Laura that very morning.

‘Laura is a director of the UNHCR office in Hong Kong. She was among that selected group invited into China some months ago. She is going to meet us at the start line of the walk with others from her office, plus Helen. She’ll probably be after you for a pledge, based on the miles you hope to cover. She’s got to me already.’

‘How did she get invited into China? That was a top-level deputation. Only those considered sympathetic to China were invited. They came back full of praise for Chairman Mao, especially so after that so-called historic meeting with Nixon.’

‘Indeed. You might ask her. She’s top-drawer, I must say. She knows everybody in Hong Kong. She’s even been able to pressure some of the Taipans to pledge themselves for the walk today.’

‘Pressure? A Taipan?’ Adam queried, thinking that some of the top businessmen he knew in Hong Kong were not the sort easily to put any pressure on. They made few mistakes, or at least gave the impression that they never expected to find themselves in situations they could not completely control. ‘Anyone who could exert compulsion let alone feminine strength on a Taipan must have something going for her. What’s her family name and background?’

‘Holst is her name.’

‘I thought she was Chinese. Like your Helen?’

‘No. She’s Eurasian. Had a Dutch ancestor in China sufficiently far back to get himself involved in the Opium War. Later he got to be a top comprador. Worked all over China, became very wealthy. The family inherited masses of money but by the time it got to Laura, most of it had been dissipated. Laura married into wealth but not happily, according to Helen. So she buries herself in her work, helping people.’

‘Eurasian you say? That part explains why she can corner the Taipans, get support from them. Even meet them on equal terms, superior though some take themselves to be.’

‘What you say is correct about some Eurasians. They do appear to be able to meet some Europeans more on a face-to-face level than many full-blooded Chinese. You could say the European part of their heritage makes them at least half acceptable.’

‘What about her other half, her Chinese?’

‘I don't really know, but she has a lovely Chinese name. A transliteration of Lo Ya, to Laura. The Lo is the character meaning silk or gossamer. The Ya means elegance. You would know those characters, of course.’ With a manicured forefinger Talisman sketched them on the windscreen before him.

‘Does the meaning of the characters fit the lady?’ Adam inquired as the strokes Talisman had drawn melted from his gaze.

‘I’ll leave that for you to consider while I’m tottering along behind you with Helen, old chap,’ Talisman laughed. ‘Who knows, maybe we’ll just fall into a nice clump of bushes and Helen can attend to me.’

Adam smiled in return, happy to accept that Talisman had found love with Helen, a leading solicitor with one of the largest law firms in Hong Kong, and who would become Lady Helen on marriage, a change of status now easily accepted in Hong Kong. By now the island was no longer referred to a British Colony but as a Dependent Territory, which was to him a pointer that Britain no longer wished to humiliate China, a largely broken country trying to shoulder its way onto the world stage. But the leadership problems were acute, with Chairman Mao frail and in poor health, an angry Madame Mao jostling for power, and the diminutive but brilliant Deng Xiaoping waiting in the dangerous shadows.


On arrival at the stadium Adam parked his car and with Talisman, made his way towards a white tent to register. Fifty or so yards from it, Talisman halted by a cluster of camphor laurel trees and laid his hand on Adam’s arm.

‘There she is,’ he announced. ‘That’s Laura.’

He was pointing discreetly at a tall Chinese woman in slim-fitting jeans and matching denim shirt. Adam’s heart lurched as he looked and remembered that when he had first seen the girl he had named Lily, in the courtyard of her home in Korea many years ago, she had the same class and poise written all over her. He now experienced the same sort of feeling as he looked at Laura, for she possessed that style and elegance which immediately jumps the barriers of class and country. When they had moved up close to her, Talisman announced, as a butler might herald an important visitor, ‘Madame, may I introduce my friend, Adam Kelly?’

‘Sir William!’ Laura flashed him a lovely smile which she then turned on Kelly. ‘Adam, I’ve heard so much about you from Sir William. He says you have done all manner of good things.’ Closer up she was darker, more beautiful, and for a Eurasian, much more Chinese looking than Adam had expected.

‘Anyone who gets to even half my age should have done something worthwhile,’ he responded, smiling back at her.

Laura’s face crinkled with laughter, and as others gathered about, Adam went to perch on a nearby railing in that cool and innocent morning. He felt that in this distinguished-looking woman with the fitting and evocative name, he had been given a reliable partner to get Sir William home from the twenty-mile walk in a reasonably safe fashion.


It was dusk by the time their party of four made it home from the stadium and it was almost eight o’clock before Laura and Adam sat down to the steak, salad, white wine and French bread he was practised at preparing for dinner. First, though, he and Laura had a couple of long gin and tonics, something else he was adept at fixing. By this time, Sir William had gone to his room with Helen, both exhausted from the walk. The big house was quiet, and the room in which he and Laura sat could have been a pasture in the fields, and the food on the table could have been set for a picnic. As they sipped their wine and started to eat, a silence fell between them. To bridge the gap, Adam commented, ‘Sir William mentioned this morning, as we were driving to the stadium, that you visited China last year. June was it? What was it like in Peking? I often have trouble saying Beijing after having used Peking for so long. I’ll get used to the new form, though. One has to.’

‘Indeed,’ Laura shrugged in a dismissive way. ‘The old is going very fast in China. Like no longer saying Peking, for one thing. But Beijing is not only an ancient city; it is also a historically destroyed one. My grandfather was there at the time of the Boxer Rebellion, at the start of this century. He took some wonderful photographs showing just how the graceful arches spanning the main streets gave a kind of rhythm to the city, but for some reason the destruction of the great walls and the gates positioned about them began over twenty years ago. First the arches, then the city walls and finally the huge gates were torn down in a wrecking madness that lasted for about twelve years. It was a huge undertaking, for the city walls were massive, wide enough on top to take a carriage drawn by four horses. The walls surrounding the entire city were protected by the gates which were opened at sunrise and closed at dusk. The inner city, including the palace, had nine gates, the outer city had seven. But those once-beautiful gates! Where are they today?’ She leaned across the table separating her from Adam, her wine glass clenched in both hands.

‘Torn down,’ Adam answered her. ‘Except two.’

‘Yes. Chíen Men, once the South Gate of Beijing, and Tienanmen, across the city from it, a majestic building but which now has a huge photograph of Chairman Mao covering most of the front. Imagine that, in the place of all that once ancient beauty? That which the Chinese once called “The Centre of the Universe” has been reduced to something resembling a heartless Russian square, which is a gross paradox to me. And what makes it worse is not that some authority ordered everything old to be destroyed, but that anyone you now ask seems unable to understand or explain why everything was pulled down. Some people do mutter, however, that Chairman Mao hated everything old, and besides, that the destruction would be politically correct. Therefore, much beauty simply disappeared, even though much of it dated back to the Yuan and the Ming Dynasties.’

‘It is a passionate issue,’ Adam agreed. ‘But apart from those walls and gates, a lot of people have vanished as well. I was thinking, even as you were talking, of another photograph I’ve seen of those walls you have spoken about, and of the top communists standing there towards the end of ’49, when Chairman Mao proclaimed himself Chairman of the Chinese People’s Republic. He named Liu to be his President, Zhou to be Foreign Minister, Peng as Minister of Defence. For what he later achieved in Korea, Peng ultimately became a Field Marshal. Deng was there too, along with Lin Biao.’

As Adam named these men and others, he took several cashews from a jar nearby and placed them on the white tablecloth between Laura and himself. Running his hand over the neat row of nuts, he continued. ‘No future seemed more assured for so many people who stood beside Chairman Mao on that day, with their lives and careers dedicated to the building of a new China. But a few years later Lin Biao had died in a plane crash when he tried to flee China after his plot to assassinate Mao was revealed. Other deaths followed, and now, of all those nuts originally on this table, only two remain.’

Adam scattered the cashews, leaving only two. ‘One is Zhou, the other is Deng, who might yet struggle to full power. But he is a saddened man because his eldest son, his favourite, broke his back when he tried to escape from Red Guard attacks just five years ago. Deng is under threat of course, with Madame Mao anxious to eliminate him, as he poses a threat to her own power ambitions. Zhou is terminally ill. Cancer.’ Adam paused, waiting for a response from Laura.

‘Goodness! You know more about the top Chinese personalities than many Chinese I know,’ Laura exclaimed. ‘And most Europeans have a dreadful time with Chinese names. Some even think our given names are surnames.’

‘True enough,’ Adam agreed. ‘But I have studied Chinese. Started it all when I was in the army. Later at university in Australia. Besides, my wife was murdered here during the riots of ’67 when the Red Guards looked like storming into Hong Kong. On the evidence available, I blame Madame Mao in part for her death, so I am very interested in what you call Chinese personalities.’

‘I heard about your wife,’ Laura confessed. ‘It was terrible. I’m sorry.’

‘Yes. But back to some of the people I’ve just mentioned. Was the madness, the mayhem and destruction involved with the Red Guards and their Cultural Revolution mentioned when you visited China? And by the way, why were you invited in? Were you thought to be sympathetic to Mao? Were you there to applaud his so-called achievements?’

‘Sympathetic to Mao? To his followers?’ Laura’s voice had risen sharply. ‘Can you possibly mean people like that horrible wife of his? Jiang Qing or Clear River, as she is known. You must be joking! Sympathetic!’ Laura’s clenched hands had released her glass. They were poised on the table between them.

‘Okay,’ Adam quietly apologised. ‘So why were you invited in? As I recall, some of the people you went with came back full of praise for Mao.’

‘That’s correct.’ Laura’s voice softened. ‘But you must remember how keen many people were to try and visit China following Nixon’s much publicised visit. We were all asked in just one year later. I went in because I work for the United Nations Refugee Organisation here in Hong Kong. I simply presumed that the Chinese might have wanted to talk about all the people they are getting from Vietnam. Hundreds of thousands of them are in China, hoping to make it out and to Hong Kong. China is such a mess after that crazy Cultural Revolution.’

‘Did they discuss that with you?’

Laura’s face darkened momentarily. ‘No,’ she replied. She took a sip of wine, played about with the food on her plate and finally continued. ‘But it seemed that someone in authority was trying to blame people other than the Red Guards for the deaths, the wounding and the wrecking of property that took place during that cultural madness. Some Shanghai photographer, we were told, had filmed the occasion when Liu and his wife were beaten and humiliated by many Red Guards. They were shown in that “aeroplane” position with their arms twisted cruelly behind their backs. The film showed Liu being thrown high up in the air then dumped forcibly onto the ground. He was kicked in the head and face. He was pulled upright and punched repeatedly in the face. He dropped onto his knees and with his face cupped in his hands, he wept. He was later pulled upright and pushed about. His face was badly cut and bleeding, bruised and swollen. And this same man, at that same time, was a member of the Politburo. He was a leading communist and moreover, he was the President of China. No one knew what he had done, but Mao had told his Red Guards to “bombard the Headquarters” and Liu was one of his targets. His wife, a beautiful woman, was also shown being hit about the head and face. She was bleeding badly. She was also exhibited dragging huge boulders about the garden of the home where she and her husband had lived. But do you know, there was no more sophisticated woman in all of China than her! Madame Mao could be seen in the background, screaming abuse at Madame Liu. A little man was always with her. We were told that his name is Shen Kang, described as being closely linked to intelligence or security or some such. It was all terrible to watch.’ Laura stared intently at Adam, her dark eyes sparkling with suppressed anger.

‘It’s common knowledge, you know, about how the then President Liu and his wife were treated. But why were you shown such a film? One which you say implicates Madame Mao in the way the Liu family were maltreated. Who showed the film? You say someone from Shanghai was credited with shooting the original. Who was that?’

‘I can’t answer those questions. But as I’ve said, someone was apparently trying the shift the blame away from Chairman Mao and for the way his Cultural Revolution devolved into madness and murder. And Madame Mao has made so many enemies, particularly those who survived the revolution, that she was presumably targeted for censure and subsequent removal from power by being revealed in that movie. But she has survived. She is still a force in China. But you must understand how much she hated Madame Liu who was so beautiful while she is unattractive, sometimes ugly looking. It has been said she would never go near a swimming pool when Madame Liu was in the water. It has also been noted that at this stage of her life, Madame Mao is a bald as an egg. She wears a wig, you know.’

‘You are no fan of Madame Mao.’ Adam grinned as he made the comment.


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