A wave of nostalgia swept over Hong Kong last week as people mourned the passing of James Wong Jim, one of the key figures in Canto-pop culture. After graduating from the University of Hong Kong in 1963, the man of many talents played a significant part in the growth of Hong Kong culture, spirit and identity from the 1970s. His lyrics captured the mood of the times, the aspirations of ordinary people and their hopes and fears at a time of change. In the RTHK television series Below the Lion Rock, he wrote: 'Of one mind in pursuit of our dream, all discord set aside; with one heart on the same bright quest, fearless and valiant inside.' The spirit of neighbourliness and self-reliance prevalent in the '70s inspired former financial secretary Antony Leung Kam-chung to ride on the 'Spirit of Below the Lion Rock' to lighten the mood of society in his budget in 2002-03. In Ask Me, Wong hit the nail on the head of the self-assured ethos of Hongkongers when change was the order of the day. 'When I face the world, sometimes I fear and tremble ... Consequences I accept, as long as I can say: I am who I am.' Wong believed in the value of Canto-culture and that prompted him to use the Cantonese dialect in pop songs in the '70s when Putonghua and English songs were the mainstream pop music. A unique Hong Kong culture composed of Cantonese-oriented soap opera, pop music, fiction and newspaper columns, advertising slogans, magazines and newspapers has been in the making since then. It coincided with the boom in the Hong Kong economy from the '70s. After the Communist Party leadership opened its door wider to investment from Hong Kong and the world, Canto-pop, television drama and Hong Kong culture and lifestyle landed on the mainland. Canto-pop has become an integral part of daily life in Chinese communities overseas. The death of Wong has revived the collective memory of songs he wrote and Hong Kong's phenomenal rise to prosperity and gaining of a sense of identity. Amid public debate over the government plan to build an icon on the West Kowloon reclamation as part of its goal of developing a cultural Hong Kong, the loss of Wong has been seen as the beginning of the decline, if not the end, of Canto-pop culture. The Chinese-language Hong Kong Economic Times said in an editorial that the Putonghua-oriented mainland culture would become more prevalent in parallel with the ascendancy of the mainland economy. It may be gross exaggeration, but fears among some people that the West Kowloon cultural hub will become the scene of exploitation of alien culture - similar to the invasion of eight foreign powers in China in the late Qing dynasty - have reflected a feeling of loss of culture and identity. When Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa declared Hong Kong's aspiration to become Asia's world city, to stand alongside New York and London, people reacted with scepticism and cynicism. They are puzzled about what it means to them and how it relates to their daily life. Many, perhaps, had the same feeling when they saw such treasures of western culture as Picasso's Parade, recently on show in Hong Kong, and the avant-garde collections of the globalised Guggenheim museums. Faced with China's rising cultural market and economy, the city is confronted with the big question of how to position itself culturally. Much has been said about a business-led model for developing the West Kowloon cultural district. There has not been a great deal of public discussion about the essence and features of a cultural Hong Kong. While the lyrics of Wong gave a snapshot of the city's glorious past, they have shed light on the treasures of Hong Kong culture, on which the city's vibrancy, diversity and resilience are built.