Hongkongers should be grateful to the motherland: Actor and TVB general manager Eric Tsang
Returning home
Published: Jun 29, 2022 08:23 PM
A scene from TVB documentary No Poverty Land Photo: Courtesy of TVB

A scene from TVB documentary No Poverty Land Photo: Courtesy of TVB

Eric Tsang Photo: Courtesy of TVB

Eric Tsang Photo: Courtesy of TVB

 "The first time I went abroad after Hong Kong's return, I was finally able to write the word 'China' on the departure form. My tears started flowing right at that moment."

As the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to the motherland approaches on Friday, Eric Tsang (Tsang Chi-wai), a famous Hong Kong actor and general manager of TVB, sat down with the Global Times for an exclusive interview to talk about his past and relationship with the country. 

The 69-year-old took over as general manager of TVB in 2021, after which the TVB documentary No Poverty Land became a hit in the Chinese mainland. Like many of the characters he has played over the years, Tsang is talkative and easygoing. During the interview, he said that Hong Kong should be grateful to the motherland and that his return to TVB has allowed more people to get to know the country again. He recalled the feeling he had when issuing a joint statement to support the National Security Law for Hong Kong, noting that "it was like seeing a light in the dark."

GT: Can you still remember the day Hong Kong returned to the motherland on July 1, 1997? How was it different from the day before? 

Tsang: I watched the entire flag-raising ceremony on TV in the early morning. We had been listening to the British national anthem since childhood, so when we heard our own national anthem and raised our national flag, we were very moved.

The return was a big change for us. Before the return, whenever we went abroad, we had had to fill in "Hong Kong" as our nationality. But if the word "Hong Kong" was not followed by the word "UK," people would ask "Is Hong Kong a 'nationality?'" If we filled in "UK," British people would say "are you really British?"

It was not a good feeling. We have black eyes and yellow skin, but we felt like orphans. 

GT: Your ancestral home is in South China's Guangdong Province. Do you have any impressions of your hometown? How did you develop your affection for the motherland?

Tsang: It was a novel experience for me to go back to my hometown at first, but I always wanted to go back and find my roots. I went back for a visit about 10 years ago. Many villagers took me with them and told me that my ancestors came from this place and I was very happy.

Next year, I plan to produce a show about "going back home." Each entertainer will go back to their hometowns to do something. Maybe they will hold a local party and invite their best friends to have fun with the villagers. They can also do promotions for local products and donate the income to local primary schools. "How can someone connect with their roots" is something I've always been longing to do.

Why do we search for our roots? Because many of the things we have were given to us by the country. Hong Kong residents today should be very grateful to our country. I still remember when I was a kid, there was a water supply control policy in Hong Kong. We had to wait in line with a bucket to get water every four days.

After our country imported water from the Dongjiang River, the water supply was no longer limited. 

That's why we always say Hong Kong should have a grateful heart. 

GT: Do you remember your first trip to the mainland? 

Tsang:That was in 1991, I went to Beijing along with 70 artists for charity work after a flood hit East China. At the time, I was naive and told everyone: "70 people go, 70 people come back. Not one person less." Recalling it now, I was being very ridiculous. 

When I got off the plane, I asked, "Is this Beijing?" There seemed to be no people on the road. Our tour bus then brought us to the city center and I saw people dancing in the park, but there were no lights. At that time, it was dinner time. Many chimneys were smoking, because everyone was cooking and using coal as fuel. 

The second, I wanted to talk to the Ministry of Civil Affairs about charity work, because our Hong Kong Star Football Team was helping many countries raise money every year. At that time, the idea was "disaster reduction and poverty alleviation." The main causes of poverty in some places in the Chinese mainland were natural disasters. In 1993 and 1994, I had hardly made any films because I went to 13 provinces to perform disaster relief and poverty alleviation. What impressed me most was the visits to poor households. At that time, there were poor households whose annual income was only 200 yuan ($30). When I returned to Hong Kong to raise money, I told everyone: "If you donate the money for a cup of coffee that could be their income for a year."

But think about how the motherland has developed over the past 30 years? The contrast is too great.

GT: Your acting career has been very successful, so why have you chosen to work at TVB when it is in a difficult situation in Hong Kong?

Tsang: Why would I come back if TVB was at its peak? Because I have experienced difficult times, I want to do something for it. It's like why I returned to my hometown back then, TVB is where I grew up. TVB made me what I am today. 

What is the most important thing for me to do when I come back? To tell young people about TVB's history and our work ethics. I often tell them that TVB is the largest communication platform in Hong Kong. It should have a sense of social responsibility. 

What is social responsibility? Let me give you an example. There is a program in Hong Kong called Super Trio Series. When I hosted it the first year, the main theme song was "Millions, Just the Change." Once while walking on the street, I heard some parents sing this theme song with their children in their arms. When I saw this, I thought "this is no good. How can I teach children to talk about money?" So I changed the song. Sometimes a word, a moment, will affect a person's life.

GT: TVB was once targeted by ''anti-Chinese mainland'' forces in Hong Kong. Did you ever worry about your own safety?

Tsang: As a Hong Kong citizen, you can't stop doing the right thing just because you are worried, because this is where you were born and raised. When you have something happen at home, you have to deal with it, right?

I think it's strange. What were the rioters thinking at the time? Your home is yours. How can you break your own home and break up with your parents? No one person can do everything, but if there is something one person can do, they should do it.

GT: The TVB documentary No Poverty Land has a good reputation in the mainland. Why did TVB choose such a topic?

Tsang: I spent eight months filming in the mainland during the pandemic, which greatly affected me. While traveling, I saw huge progress has been made over the past decades, while Hong Kong has been left behind.

I wanted to tell my audience back in Hong Kong about these huge changes. We chose the title No Poverty Land to tell our audiences how extremely impoverished villages in the mainland had been uplifted by building roads over several years. Our next season will focus on environmental protection.

GT: In your previous interviews you've mentioned young Hongkongers don't know enough about the mainland. Why is this still the case despite the constant exchanges between the two?

Tsang: Exchanges are still just surface level. Many young Hongkongers don't have the opportunity to learn about everyday life in the mainland so they still believe Hong Kong is more advanced than the mainland. I sometimes tell my friends to send their children back to the mainland for schooling, because I think a good learning atmosphere is also very important. Many young people in Hong Kong have chosen to "lie flat."

GT: You publicly support the national security law. Why did you choose to give your support?

Tsang: A lot of Hong Kong residents saw the violent behavior occurring at the time and they didn't know what to do. Things were really chaotic at the time, to the point there was no law and they had too many ways to avoid punishment. Hong Kong is a society with a civilized legal system. How can Hong Kong be a hopeful place if our legislation is destroyed and the police under attack? The regulations were needed to stop the violence. The national security law is like a light in the dark.

One should be responsible for themselves. Only those with wicked ideas should be afraid of the national security law.

GT: What is your biggest expectation for the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong's return to the motherland?

Tsang: I hope Hong Kong can get back on its feet again. I expect a deeper connection with the mainland, and I hope young Hongkongers can appreciate our country with a grateful heart. Hong Kong has many advantages, for example, being in line with international practice. We connect our country to the world and serve our country in return.