King of satire, defender of the truth

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 July, 2012, 12:00am


Silly Old Tung, Broomhead Ip and Bow-tie Monk are comic caricatures of politicians that have propelled publisher Jimmy Pang Chi-ming to fame, but preserving local culture and uncovering public deception are the subjects closest to his heart.

In fact, if you ask Pang about his company's best books this year, he recommends two about the local education system rather than his latest pictorial satire about Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, tentatively titled 'Secretary Leung'. Comic books, Pang said, are 'not that high in quality'.

Nonetheless, Pang knows it was the drawing of former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa in 2000 crouching naked over a toilet - ?a Rodin's The Thinker - that granted a second wind to Pang's deeply in-debt publishing house, Sub-Culture. Some 40,000 of the Silly Old Tung comic books were snapped up within a month of the cartoon's publication.

'Thanks to Mr Tung, we have now paid off 70 to 80 per cent of our debt,' the effervescent 56-year-old says during an interview with the South China Morning Post last week in his book-filled office in Mong Kok.

The book's popularity also helped Pang finance a master's degree in cultural studies from Lingnan University, which he says gave him the 'substance' he lacked after quitting school as a Form Four pupil.

These days, he is working hard to get his company's new books printed in time for the Hong Kong Book Fair, which starts on Wednesday.

Pang says his publishing house has two responsibilities: to point out society's injustices and to protect the truth in a world populated by spin doctors. Resisting attempts to nail him to a specific political camp, Pang says his books serve no agenda and are 'neutral while taking a stand for the truth'.

He cites one titled Heng's Heartfelt Ties to His Homeland by Lau Sze-hong, which will be premiered at the book fair this year. It revolves around the insight of 10 secondary school pupils who went on national education tours on the mainland - an experience they described as brainwashing. He says he avoided extreme opinions in the book by only including claims supported by at least two of those interviewed.

He says he never imagined the book to be that topical. But with heated debate on the national education scheme, he has increased the print run to 3,000 from 2,000 copies.

Pang, who loved photography as a child, dropped out of school and got his start as a production assistant for director John Woo Yu-sum. After becoming disenchanted by the 'poor integrity of the people in the film industry', he began working for a youth magazine called New Generation in the 1980s and was put in charge of the supplement devoted to social satire.

It was then that he became drawn to the realm of possibilities that the print media could provide against the limited leeway he saw in motion pictures. In November 1988 he and some friends pooled HK$200,000 to start a monthly magazine that would eventually spawn Subculture.

'We lost the money pretty quickly and ran into serious debt. So we switched to book publishing and have been doing this ever since.'

The publisher is vice-chairman of the Hong Kong SME Publications Association, as well as a qualified wushu judge and a founder of the Hong Kong Screenwriters' Guild.

Crowned by many as Hong Kong's 'king of satire', Pang laughs off such praise. 'Far from it,' he says, adding that he cherishes the freedom 'to have a bit of fun'.

'It's a good thing when society allows room for people to vent,' Pang says. 'In 2003, when we published our comic books, it actually diffused people's anger. The Hong Kong people are happy when someone is taking their side at a time when their voice does not count.'

And what makes a caricature that sticks? 'One that everyone gets instantly, like Silly Old Tung - he's silly, no explanation needed.'

He says society showed a similar flair for satire in the parody film posters that sprung up to lampoon former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen during the illegal basement saga that sank his bid for chief executive.

'You can see a city's creativity, and most importantly, you can see the freedom to express your views. When we don't have that liberty, our society will die,' Pang says, adding leaders are smart to tolerate satire.

'The more you suppress satire, the more it will rise up. The more capable a leader, the more he or she will not be afraid of satire. It is those who are hiding something who are most scared of alternative voices.'

In 2001, then secretary for security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee - under fire for her high-handed approach - was given the Pang treatment and caricatured as Broomhead Ip, a dig at the shape of her hair. Critics called the portrayal sexist and Ip herself described it as 'the worst offender' in attacks against her.

'[Broomhead] is a cruel attack on an unnamed official - apparently intended to be me - on the basis of her appearance and in very unkind language,' Ip said. 'I am saddened not just because of the personal attack against me but because the method is humiliating to all women.'

A decade onwards, Pang dismisses Ip's claims as her attempt at 'trying to make a scene'. He says: 'We had absolutely no intention of making the caricature sexist. She was trying to find any excuse to get rid of us.'

Pang stands firm in the face of criticism and is unafraid of censorship.

'If the government clamps down on my company, then we will immediately shut it down in protest. We operate every day prepared that it may be our last. I've prepared a sum of money as severance to my staff in the case that we have to shut down.'

He says he is glad to see young adults and teenagers becoming more vocal in expressing their views on society in recent years. 'In the past, people would only protest for things like higher wages. But now, people's concerns have become more political. They are more willing to stand up for their civil liberties.'

That is why Pang reserves particular praise for Scholarism, a group of 150 secondary school pupils who have been vocal in their opposition to the national education scheme.

'Two years ago, we had young adults surrounding the Legislative Council protesting the construction of the high-speed railway to Guangzhou. Now they have passed the baton to teenagers. This must be making the government very nervous.'

Personal history


Age 56

Currently Director of publishers Sub-Culture Ltd

Previously Movie set assistant

Education Left school after Form 4. Returned afterwards to gain a master's degree in cultural studies from Lingnan University in 2005

Personal life Single