In January 1980 a young police officer named John MacLennan committed suicide in his Ho Man Tin flat. His death came mere hours before he was to be arrested for committing homosexual acts still, at that point, illegal in Hong Kong. But this was more than the desperate act of a young man, ashamed and afraid; both his death and the subsequent investigation were a smokescreen for a scandal that went to the heart of the establishment.
MacLennan came to Hong Kong from Scotland during a time of social unrest and corruption scandals, a time when the triads still took their cut, and when homosexuality and paedophilia were considered interchangeable and both offered easy targets for blackmail. The governorship of Sir Murray MacLehose was to be a time of reform and progress, but with that remit came the determination of many to suppress scandals and silence those who stirred up trouble. Both the life and death of John MacLennan seemed to many of those in power to threaten the stability of one of Britain’s last colonies.
Winner of the 2017 Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong History Book Prize.
“Nigel Collett’s thoroughly researched and sensitive book is the last word on the MacLennan affair.” — Kate Whitehead in the South China Morning Post. “Not only does he cover it in painstaking detail, following leads and explaining the many inconsistencies in the case, but he also puts MacLennan’s suicide in its social and historical context, and places it against a much bigger scandal that was brushed under the carpet.”
A Death in Hong Kong: The MacLennan Case of 1980 and the Suppression of a Scandal
by Nigel Collett
City University of Hong Kong Press, March 2018, ISBN