Small in area, large in literature

By Lu Qianwen Source:Global Times Published: 2013-1-14 17:48:01


Book fans pack into the 2012 Hong Kong Book Fair in July Photo:CFP
Book fans pack into the 2012 Hong Kong Book Fair in July Photo:CFP

HK writers offer quality but lack publishing outlets

No Chinese person is unfamiliar with the name Louis Cha and his wuxia novels. Through television operas and collective works, Hong Kong (HK) wuxia writers like Louis Cha and Liang Yusheng have a strong readership base in the Chinese mainland.

Indeed, for a long time when referring to HK literature, most mainlanders' knowledge is only limited to the wuxia genre. However, the fact is that HK, as a special place both in history and geography, has nurtured a group of various writers with their own writing style, different from the mainland and Taiwan as well as foreign countries like Britain, which colonized HK for more than a century.

"As a small region, HK doesn't have a large number of writers, but their influence is not negligible," said Lin Nina, chief editor of the Chinese language literature department of the Thinkingdom Media Group, a leading private publisher in China.

"HK and Taiwan literature weren't routinely introduced to the mainland until its opening up in the late 1970s, and in those years, successive HK writers were introduced but achieved varying levels of popularity. This is in accordance with mainland people's changing reading habits and understanding of HK literature," Lin told the Global Times.

Something for everyone

To most mainland readers, HK literature is synonymous with popular writing, covering subjects like love and romance, career struggles, wuxia and science fiction, in line with HK's position as an international metropolis.

Well-known wuxia writers aside, the next group that pops up in people's mind would be Yi Shu and Zhang Xiaoxian who are known for love stories, Liang Fengyi, a representative writer of business novels, as well as Ni Kuang and Huang Yi who specialize in science fiction.

In fact, the success of HK's popular literature writers in the mainland has also helped to introduce its pure literature writers to mainland readers. "In recent years, there has been a small upsurge of HK writers' [popularity] in the mainland after the [surge] in the late 1970s," said Lin.

With local publishers introducing an increasingly complete range of HK writers and their works, big names like Liu Yichang, Xi Xi, Dong Qizhang and Ye Si have entered into mainland readers' sight. Among all those pure literature writers, Liu Yichang is regarded as one of the elder generation of writers who helped to establish the base of HK literature as early as the 1960s.

Though hailed as the most accomplished writer in HK, Liu is not very well known yet in the mainland. Born in 1918, Liu's most renowned work is The Drunkard (1963), which later was adapted into HK director Wong Karwai 's film 2046. Previously, another of Liu's novels, Tête-bêche (1975), inspired Wong to shoot the film In the Mood for Love in 2000.

The current heavyweight writers like Xi Xi and Ye Si (who unfortunately passed away on January 6) are believed to be mid-generation pillars of HK literature. Born in 1938, Xi Xi is deemed to best represent HK literature. With representative works like My City, A Lady Like Me and Mourning for the Breast, many of Xi's writings center on the changes happening in HK people's daily lives, reflecting different times of the society.

Ye Si, who was just awarded Author of the Year at the 2012 Hong Kong Book Fair, is best known for poems and prose.

There are many new generation writers in HK now, including Dong Qizhang, Han Lizhu and Luo Guixiang whose works have all been introduced to the mainland.

British connection

Among the group of young writers, Dong Qizhang is the most noteworthy. His Nature History Trilogy is seen as distinct from other writings of the period for its European style, rich language and structure to depict an imaginary HK.

"Compared to Taiwan literature, which is more influenced by traditional Chinese culture, HK literature is more influenced by British writing and more international," said Qiu Huadong, deputy chief editor of People's Literature, a leading literature magazine in China.

"For example, we can trace many traditional Chinese cultural elements like operas from leading Taiwan writers like Pai Hsien-yung and Zhang Dachun, but in Hong Kong literature, most are modern urban related subjects," Qiu told the Global Times.

Naturally fitting into the world literature link, HK literature's development is inseparable from its history. Since emerging from the 1950s and 1960s, local writers had a relatively free creative environment under British rule. "Unlike Taiwan, which was more easily affected by its local government's relations with the mainland, HK writers were less influenced by political factors and had a wider international vision in their writing," said Lin.

Inner vs. outer emphasis

"Now with increasing communication between writers and their works in the three locations (the mainland, Taiwan, HK), all can complement each other in literature due to differing degrees of marketization and systems," said Qiu.

Being at different stages of market development and with different models, the writings of those three parts of China also have apparent differences. "Mainland works in recent years are more about social changes, reflecting the big era, while Taiwan and HK writings place more emphasis on the inside, people's inner feelings," said Ye Si to Shenzhen Special Zone Daily last July.

For HK writers, one embarrassing situation is that they have a shortage of publishing channels, whereas in the 1950s there were many professional magazines for writers to publish their stories. "Unlike the mainland's People's Literature, Harvest and others, and Taiwan with its Unitas and the INK - all of which are mature and professional literature magazines - HK has few of these," said Ye Si.

"Any strong and expressive language in the world must have diverse cultural and literary content, like in English" said Liang Wendao, a well-known HK cultural critic.

"Today's Chinese language literature needs to be expanded. It should not just be the mainland writing, but also the various writing styles of HK and Taiwan authors. Only in this way can Chinese language literature be more influential and expressive," said Liang.

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