The rise of China in the wake of the slow relative decline of the United States has been the overarching narrative of global studies since the beginning of this century. Is this narrative correct? China’s growth is slowing as it reaches middle income status and the United States is still overwhelmingly more wealthy and powerful than China. If China will someday “overtake” the United States, it will not happen for decades or centuries, depending what is meant by overtaking. But even this more guarded account of US decline is colored by an outdated, state-centric view of human society. The twenty-first century world-system is centered on the United States but not contained within it; individuals all over the world participate in hierarchies of distinction that are fundamentally American in ideology and orientation. Whether or not they agree with US policy, support the US president, or are even able to enter the United States, success-oriented individuals choose to live in an American world—or accept global social exclusion. This is just as true in China as anywhere else, and perhaps even more true for Chinese individuals than for anyone else.

Most places other than those where English is the main language are usually—in terms of literature—defined by works in the local language; English-readers view this tradition via translations. But the situation in Hong Kong is reversed: because Hong Kong Chinese works are so rarely translated, and because there is a considerable body of Hong Kong writing in English, Hong Kong has come to most non-Chinese readers via the English rather than the Chinese tradition. Translated Hong Kong Chinese literature remains all too uncommon, so the small (but numerous) morsels in Cantonese Love Stories, a collection of twenty-five short pieces by Dung Ka-Cheung, are very welcome.

All too many places have the form of democracy—elections—without the substance. Hong Kong, just about uniquely, has the opposite: most of the substance—a free press, independent courts, rule of law, privacy protections, etc.—without the form. The territory suffers having a significant democratic deficit, a situation that Christopher Patten, the “last governor”, famously called “liberty without democracy”.

Balli Kaur Jaswal’s teasingly entitled and intricately plotted novel incorporates multiple storylines with elements of rom-com, mystery, and family saga. The main protagonist, Nikki, is a 22-year-old, single, independent-minded university drop-out in London. She lives alone above the pub where she works while she searches for her calling, and for love. In the way of adult children everywhere, she is breaking her parents’ hearts with her choices. But her parents are Punjabi immigrants to Britain, and so as well as negotiating all the usual intergenerational pitfalls, Nikki must also negotiate diverging cultural expectations, both between herself and her family, and also between herself and the wider Punjabi community.

“Finance is the lifeblood of the modern economy” has become something of a stock phrase for Chinese policymakers over recent years, uttered most recently by Xi Jinping as part of his speech to the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing in mid May. Although this sounds like a capitalist mantra, what precisely might be meant by this phrase requires more in-depth understanding of China’s economy and its financial system. At the heart of that system still lie China’s banks, in spite of the rapid emergence of other financial institutions and instruments over the last decade.