Up to 1,000 international scholars will converge on Hong Kong this summer for a trennial congress of the International Comparative Literature Association (ICLA). Hong Kong's bicultural heritage made it a perfect venue for such a congress, said one of the organisers, Eugene Chen Eoyang, who is both chair professor in English at Lingnan University and comparative literature professor at Indiana University. After Tokyo in 1991, it will be only the second time Asia has hosted the congress and organisers have invited Nobel literary laureate Gao Xingjian. ICLA was founded in 1954 at Oxford University, devoted to the study of literature beyond political, linguistic and cultural borders. Comparative literature began in Europe and North America more than a century ago and has remained a popular subject there. Courses in the area became available in Hong Kong in the 1970s. Only the University of Hong Kong has a department dedicated to the field. CUHK offers fewer than 20 postgraduate places in comparative literature under its Chinese and English departments. Professor Tam Kwok-kan, director of the Comparative Literature Research Programme at CUHK, is hopeful the conference will help popularise the discipline in the region. He said local students were interested in cross-cultural studies but took comparative literature courses only as electives. Studies in comparative literature require multi-disciplinary knowledge, such as sociology and translation skills, and centre on subjects ranging from novels, films and drama to advertisements. 'It is the least academic of all academic fields. The coming congress will be the first major comparative literature event in Hong Kong. 'The field has been biased towards the West in the past. It is only in the last 10 to 15 years that a lot of attention has been given to Asia,' Professor Chen said.