• Fri
  • Aug 1, 2014
  • Updated: 1:45am
My Take
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 June, 2014, 4:19am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 June, 2014, 4:19am

Where have all Hong Kong's novelists gone?

When I was growing up in Hong Kong in the 1960s and 70s, there were certain recurrent and well-entrenched characterisations of the city. Among these were our being a cultural desert and that the people were uninterested in politics and only wanted to make money.

Now, people seem more interested in protest than profit. Our young activists want to occupy Central rather than work in it. Has our cultural life been as transformed as our politics?

You would think so, as troubled times often prove to be fertile ground for the literary imagination. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case. One reason may be that we have done a terrible job in promoting and developing our own literature.

A recent letter in the Financial Times from Kelly Falconer, the founder of Asia Literary Agency in Hong Kong, takes up this troubling issue. She points out how our bureaucrats habitually promote performing arts at the expense of the literary art. "Little money and less attention has been set aside for the cultivation of literature in Hong Kong," she wrote, "be it in translation from Chinese or in the promotion of writing in general. The Hong Kong Arts Development Council habitually and largely funnels its generosity towards the performing arts."

Literary events and festivals have little public funding support. Among those she listed are the Hong Kong International Literary Festival, StoryWorthyWeek, Poetry OutLoud, Liars' League and Literary Death Match. She is right. It's funny how some young people want to become journalists but I have yet to meet a kid who says he wants to be a novelist.

It's not like we don't have our own literary tradition. We have, after all, produced Eileen Chang and Louis Cha, better known as Jin Yong. Our city has inspired some good books that may, in time, become classics. There are Chang's Love in a Fallen City, John le Carre's The Honourable Schoolboy, Martin Booth's Gweilo, Timothy Mo's The Monkey King and Han Suyin's A Many-Splendoured Thing, less a love story as in the movie than a good account of our city of refugees and transients. Even The Joy Luck Club ended in Kai Tak and Shenzhen.

Our political discourse will surely improve if we have a literature we can claim as our own.


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This article is now closed to comments

What about Xu Xi, who is CityU Writer in a Residence and head of the MFA?Her fiction and creative non-fiction stories are set in Hong Kong. Her essay collection "Evanescent Isles" explores Hong Kong's evolving identity from several perspectives. There are many international Hong Kongers like Xu Xi who enrich the city's literary culture. As Kelly Falconer mentioned, there is also the monthly spoken word gathering, Poetry OutLoud, held at the Fringe Club, which has been attracting locals and ex-pats since 1999. Hong Kong has a strong and multi-faceted literature. What about poets such as Louise Ho and Agnes Lam? Agnes Lam just published a book about poetic process, called "Becoming Poets: the Asian English Experience" and released another poetry collection, "A Pond in the Sky" last year. Whether in Chinese or English, writing set in Hong Kong is actively engaging with locals' struggles with identity these days. Many young people have been returning to OutLoud since the launch of our second poetry anthology, OutLoud Too, this spring. Perhaps "troubled times" are behind more interest in literary self- expression. My students from The Language through Literature: Asian Writers in English course are going after and getting creative writing scholarships. They write privately while they draw on their creative skills in professions such as PR.
I suggest more research into HK literature next time. It is alive and well.
- Kate Rogers, Community College of City University.
Maybe potential novelists realize that nobody will read their books anyway, so what's the point?
Ant Lee
As usual, mis-guided, ignorant and narrow minded view of alex lo. waste of space in scmp.
And not even a mention of the Hong Kong Writers Circle which has been active for many years. Although they have published numerous anthologies, the focus is more short stories than novels. But, short stories are literature too. Just ask the current Nobel Prize winner, Alice Munro who is exclusively a short story writer.
But several novels have been produced by members.
The commentator clearly does not read Chinese, nor has she wandered into Chinese booksellers shops. Shouldn't she, if she is involved with 'Asian literacy'? Of course HK has our own novelists. Apart from Louis Cha, we have a prolific novelist 亦舒 whose novels go into several reprints over decades, 小不點,三蘇 etc. Does the academic-economist 張五常 who writes highly popular economic articles and books count? The article names writers who are characterized by not being native HK belongers, Han, Mo (in Britain), Tan. Among these, you might include Ian McLachlan, one-time with Hong Kong University, who is an award-winning writer. His latest is Seventh Hexagon set in HK. (What do columnists know?) Nobody named here was subsidized by the Govt. Would Alex Lo and Kelly Falconer do some real research and not comment on things they don't know about?
I forgot to mention other preeminent HK novelists 古龍、黃易、倪㑌、瓊瑤. Here is a list of 亦舒's novels, which one can count even if you can't read Chinese: ****www.cnnovels.com/xd/yq/yishu/
So, 'where have HK's novelists gone', where is the 'cultural desert', and what can our novelists produce even without Govt subsidy?
Your pictorial meow has turned into a tiger roar.
Bravo, despite I am an outsider.
Hi Alex, this subject is worth exploring, whilst we can spend X Billion to build an Arts Hub at WKCD, HK hasn't produced many good novels lately and HKers' generally see books as syllabi and exam-reads. Has HK done enough to encourage reading or celebrate literal success, or has it simply let the 'reality' or market decides?
HK’s “scholarism” has a wide spectrum that spans
from MLee, AEu, AChan, … to useless MoFan, Joshua W, …
intellectual and cultural orphans
detached from compatriotic E Chang and L Cha
whose empathy they lack
while socially and intellectually segregated
from the communities of not just DJM Cornwell and Booth
but also the perspectives of Timothy Mo, Amy Tan, and Han
who tried to bridge the social gap and reconcile cultural differences
Intellectual defeatists, moral and cultural copycats
whose life mission is to emulate and advocate foreign ways
can neither originate nor appreciate meaningful literature
In the words of Walter Kaufmann
life imitates art
Without their own literature
scholarism HK marches after foreign pied pipers

For once I kinda understand what you are saying...kinda




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