Farewell to Yesi, poet who put Hong Kong into words

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 January, 2013, 4:04am

Hundreds of mourners paid tribute yesterday to Leung Ping-kwan, one of Hong Kong's most influential cultural figures whose award-winning works, from the written word to the visual arts, explored Hong Kong's identity struggle and paid homage to the city that he loved.

At his memorial yesterday, the city he loved paid homage to him - his creativity, humility, passion for dialogue, and his tireless promotion of Hong Kong literature.

Leung, who taught at Lingnan and Hong Kong universities and who used the pen name Yesi, was chosen as 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.

Known foremost for his poetry, his death on January 5 at the age of 63 after a three-year battle with lung cancer shocked artists and writers in Hong Kong, many of whom had been in the middle of collaborations with him.

Filmmaker Ben Wong King-fai, who had been making a documentary about Leung's life, said: "When he was a young man, studying poetry in America, it was unusual for Hong Kong people to have lived abroad. Yesi used his international connections to challenge the marginalisation of Hong Kong literature everywhere he went."

Yip Fai, a writer, said Leung's high standards for his own work inspired generations of artists in Hong Kong. "When I was writing my newspaper columns, Leung's influence meant that I never submitted rushed articles to my editor no matter how busy I was."

He was fully aware his friend would be reading them after publication, he said, adding: "I didn't want to disappoint him."

Leung's former student Professor Lo Kwai-Cheung of Hong Kong University said: "In all his work, he demonstrated that no matter if the human instinct is to reject things we do not understand, if you spend enough time, nothing is out of your reach."

He added that although Leung's death was untimely, "he had already given us so much".