TALK of the status of "Hong Kong culture" and you are sure to draw a barrage of challenges, particularly from those in cultural circles outside of the territory: -
Has Hong Kong got any "culture" to speak of, in the first place? It is reputedly a "cultural desert", isn't it? What's there in its culture that Hong Kong can feel proud of, other than wining and dining, merrymaking, pop singing and horse racing? As to a refined culture and intellectual merits, can Hong Kong compare with Beijing, Taipei, or Shanghai? In terms of exhibitions of various forms of art and culture, is the territory - calling itself an international city - up to the rank of such places as New York, Paris, London, or even Tokyo?
That volley of disparaging questions, in fact, reveals a strong sense of disbelief on the underlying assumption that Hong Kong has no culture "of its own".? Allegedly, the city lacks "cultural advantages" over other metropolises, though it may boast some strength in trade and business, in pleasures and entertainments.
Reasons behind that assumption can be traced to history, related to some colonial policies of the British and patriotic feelings of the Chinese.? That would be a long story; we are not going into details here.?
Yet one point merits special attention.? The nature or status of culture in Hong Kong has never been judged from the city's own perspective; it is always what "outsiders" said that counts.? The British, as the colonial ruler, looked at the issue with a sense of superiority, whereas those in cultural circles of mainland China saw it more or less through spectacles tinted with a second-hand hue of colonialist condescension.? In the end, even hongkongers accepted the verdict of "cultural desert", joking about it at their own expense, and the local multitudes have taken cultureless pleasures for granted.? What else can Hong Kong people say when all the rest of the world maintains that their hometown has no culture, can't possibly have a culture, or even doesn't deserve a culture?
Yet, if we adopt a different perspective on the nature or status of Hong Kong's culture, we can see that the city does possess a culture well developed on various levels ranging from elite-high to vulgar-low, rich in both Chinese and foreign characteristics, one that represents far more than a simplistic "sensual response to economic life" of the territory.
From a long historical point of view, we see Hong Kong has played an important role in the contact and collision between Chinese culture and her Western counterparts, thus exercising a strong influence on the cultural consciousness of people in China.? Now, let's leave aside a macro-historical vision, but take the past century alone for example.? We see countless top achievers in various cultural careers have set foot in Hong Kong, either in transit or in exile, or to make their homes here.
They were referred to, in discussions about culture of Hong Kong, as people staying here "in transit", and so did they describe themselves, as if being irrelevant to the local culture.? But were they really that irrelevant? Don't forget that, as cultural figures, their sojourn in this place is very different from a passenger's stay in the transit lounge of an airport.
When we examine the growth of a culture as taking place in two roughly defined modes, namely, in a mode that is either "stationary" (indigenous) or "mobile" (transient), then we can find that Hong Kong evidently has a well-rounded culture of the latter type.
On the one hand, the transient guests have influenced the growth of Hong Kong's indigenous culture, as did literary and academic figures like Lu Xun, Hu Shih, Hsu Ti-shan and Chen Yin-ke.? They did not come as tourists.? They have made various contributions to the growth of Hong Kong culture, with critical comments or constructive works.
On the other hand, all the cultural figures who ever lived in Hong Kong and then moved on have taken away their own impressions of the city.? Carrying such impressions as a frame of reference in their work henceforth, they exerted impact on an even broader growth of China's culture in general.?
For example, after the War of Resistance Against Japan broke out, wave after wave of big names in literary, art, theatrical and movie circles flocked to Hong Kong.? How could they have been related to Hong Kong as an island only, but not as a platform of cultural interaction?
One may compare this with the case of New York City during the 20th century when the indigenous art and culture scored remarkable progress.? Half of the city's population is made up of foreigners, and the other half is equally subdivided into natives and those who hailed from all corners of the country.? In other words, "mobility" has become a valuable resource in New York's culture, making it renewed and re-created all the time.
Hong Kong is endowed, we believe, with a climate extremely good for a mobile-type culture to flourish.? With this end in view, at the Chinese Civilisation Centre of the City University, we have been organizing lectures on cultural and art topics, holding cultural salon events, and hosting radio programmes interviewing various cultural figures.?
These efforts, we hope, will not only serve to record the intellectual footprints of those from cultural fields worldwide who stop over, but will also help to build up resources for the prosperity of Hong Kong culture.
(Translated by Allen Zhuang)
"extracted from the original Chinese preface for Cheng, Pei-kai & Ma, Ka-fai, Wenhua chao - xiandai 文化超現代 (Transcending Cultural Map), Hong Kong: Shangwu yinshuguan, 2000."