Nigel Collett’s A Death in Hong Kong: The MacLennan Case of 1980 and the Suppression of a Scandal has won the 2017 Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong History Book Prize. There will be an announcement and book talk at the Asia Society in Hong Kong on 12 March 2018 beginning at 6:30.
The Hong Kong History Book Prize is a new award for an unpublished manuscript. Sponsored by the Sir Lindsay and Lady May Ride Memorial Fund and administered by the Asian Review of Books, the Prize has the short-term objective to source new volumes for publication in the Royal Asiatic Society Hong Kong Studies series on the history of Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta, and the longer-term objective of inspiring writers to turn their attention to the region.
A Death in Hong Kong is a newly-researched recounting of the death of John MacLennan, a gay policeman in late-colonial Hong Kong.
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.
One of the Prize judges, Mark O’Neill, said of the book: “Nigel Collett is to be congratulated for the meticulous detail of his research which covers every aspect of this complicated case. He also explains well the social, moral and historical background that greatly contributed to John MacLennan’s death. This is a comprehensive account of a page of Hong Kong’s history.”
Book critic Kate Whitehead wrote in the South China Morning Post: “Nigel Collett’s thoroughly researched and sensitive book is the last word on the MacLennan affair. 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.”
Award-winner Nigel Collett is a biographer and the author of Firelight of a Different Colour: The Life and Times of Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing (Signal 8 Press, 2014) and the definitive biography on the brigadier-general who perpetrated the Jallianwala Bagh massacre: The Butcher of Amritsar: General Reginald Dyer (Bloomsbury Academic, 2006). Collett is a former lieutenant-colonel in the British forces in Hong Kong and Brunei and a thirty-year Hong Kong resident. He earned his bachelor of arts in modern history at St Peter’s College, Oxford and a master of arts in biography from the University of Buckingham.