Writer and poet Leung Ping-kwan remembered for crossing art divide

Leung Ping-kwan will be remembered for his attempts to create a bigger world for literature

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 January, 2013, 6:35am

Award-winning writer and poet Leung Ping-kwan's dying wish was for Hong Kong literature to receive the respect it deserves.

But his friends say he should also be remembered for his work focusing on the streets, food and characters of Hong Kong that are often overlooked by busy city-dwellers.

"[Leung] was wishing on his death bed that Hong Kong literature could receive serious and fair attention domestically and globally, and that local quality writers could be read and known to do justice to Hong Kong literature, which has long been marginalised," said a statement from Lingnan University's Centre for Humanities Research.

Tang Siu-wa, convenor of The Studio of the House of Hong Kong literature, said she had discussed the issue with Leung many times since calls for a literature museum began in 2008.

"We had a lot of discussions. There had been so many ideas, but at the end of the day, we didn't get any response from either the government or the West Kowloon Cultural District. Does the government want to wait until all our great Hong Kong writers are gone?"

Born on March 12, 1949, Leung was one of Hong Kong's best-known cultural icons. A versatile writer, his works ranged from poetry to novels. He taught at the University of Hong Kong's department of English and comparative literature, and was chair professor in Chinese at Lingnan University.

Writing under his pen name Yesi, his work included Postcards from Prague (1990), Mid-way: Leung Ping Kwan's Poetry Collection (1995) and Postcolonial Affairs of Food and the Heart (2009), earning him the Hong Kong Urban Council Biennial Award for Literature in 1991, 1997 and 2011.

In 2006, the government honoured Leung's contribution with the Medal of Honour. He was chosen as the Artist of the Year by the Hong Kong Artists' Guild in 2010 and Author of the Year at the Hong Kong Book Fair last year.

The University of Zurich in Switzerland last year gave him an honorary doctoral degree.

HKU comparative literature department chairwoman Esther Cheung Mee-kwan said Leung was a pioneer, who shifted the focus back to Hong Kong. She edited Leung's poetry collection City at the End of Time.

Yip Fai, poet and Leung's friend for nearly 40 years, praised Leung for getting literature into a dialogue with other art forms.

"He had great curiosity. He didn't want to confine literature in a small world," said Yip.

Leung collaborated with artists of various disciplines. Musician Kung Chi-sing recalled working with Leung in July 1989 on the installation performance Objectivities: "He was one of the few literati involved in cross-discipline performances. His openness was precious. He liked debating, which was a good thing."

Leung was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009. He died on Saturday at the Union Hospital.