Dean makes arts matter

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 June, 2011, 12:00am


Professor Chung Ling's strong sense of mission to spread appreciation and understanding of the arts extends well beyond her official academic duties. As assistant vice-president and dean of the Faculty of Arts at Hong Kong Baptist University, she oversees five departments offering a range of degrees in Chinese, English, music, religion and translation. But aware of a broader context, she is also tireless in her efforts to promote a love of literature, music and other branches of the arts in the wider community through performances, lectures and outreach events.

'People talk about Hong Kong being the cultural hub of Asia, but without young people versed in music and literature, how can you become that?' asks Chung, an acclaimed writer and translator with works of fiction, poetry and lyric prose to her name, as well as numerous academic papers. 'It is very important to build an audience by involving the community and to make a connection between the university and the younger generation,' she says.

Chung has initiated or co-ordinated a host of special programmes since she arrived from Taiwan's National Kaohsiung University eight years ago. At one level, these include arranging for faculty professors to visit secondary schools and talk about their subjects. Also, the inter-university creative writing competition for works of fiction, poetry or prose, has been extended to find 'distinguished teenage writers'. The university's writers in residence are encouraged to discuss their works and influences in detail as part of the coursework at selected schools. At another level, there is a regular cycle of seminars, recitals, poetry readings and international writers' workshops, all designed to draw new interest and spur creativity.

'We try to reach out to both the Chinese and the foreign communities,' Chung says. 'If you look at cities like Beijing, Taipei or Tokyo, they think arts and culture are important. In Hong Kong, that is not yet the people's mindset, but I think if you put the right parts in place, things can flourish. We have to make people aware that there is more to life than just making a good living. I'm trying very hard in my field of literature and my colleagues are doing the same in their field of music to build understanding and an audience.'

Indeed, this commitment and other academic responsibilities have obliged Chung to put aside various research interests and writing projects for the time being. That is not easy for someone who saw her first story in print when still in high school in Taiwan and has been writing extensively - both creatively and for respected journals - ever since completing a PhD in comparative Chinese and English Literature at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

However, on becoming dean, she realised that priorities had to change. Besides preparing the way for four-year undergraduate degrees starting next year, her focus on campus has been on raising the reputation and profile of the 'faculty of creativity' and setting research standards and systems that are clear and consistent. 'When I was asked to take on an administrative role, I got caught in a predicament,' Chung says. 'But I realised that if people thought I could handle the deanship, I would do my best to serve the university and the community.'

Favourite themes

Chung's top book is Cao Xueqin's Dream of the Red Chamber

Reincarnation is a recurring theme in her own novels

Her latest work looks at Zen Buddhism's influence on writers