A haven of Chinese traditions, a heritage never fully explored

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Many Hong Kongers, including Epoch Times writer Shi Shan, were saddened by the recent passing of beloved Hong Kong writer Ni Kuang.

Shi discussed his thoughts on Ni’s life works and their impact on Hong Kong. He analyzed how Hong Kong became a haven of Chinese traditions before the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and how its cultural development spread globally.

Shi believed that Hong Kong’s role in modern China, and even in human history, had yet to be fully explored.

The Intangible Cultural Heritage 3rd Anniversary Exhibition was held at K11 Shopping Art Museum from June 18 to July 4, 2021, jointly organized by Lingnan University and Hong Kong Academy of Arts. (TM Chan/The Epoch Times)

For a long time, mainland China has called Hong Kong a “cultural wasteland”. When Shi Shan fled communist China for Hong Kong, the reality was completely different.

According to Shi, “Hong Kong culture is very Chinese. Because the Hong Kong dialect and Cantonese were never officially changed, elements of Chinese culture and its charms could be retained in both languages.

To his surprise, Life in Hong Kong proved to Shi that local books had preserved many cultural topics. Shi had an epiphany then: Communist China was the cultural wasteland, not Hong Kong.

Epoch Times Photo
The 3rd Intangible Cultural Heritage Market. There were numerous kung fu performances on Oct. 29, 2018. (TM Chan/The Epoch Times)

Hong Kong intellectuals have inherited ancient Chinese culture.

Shi said many Chinese people fled the mainland to Hong Kong and sought refuge after 1949. However, that was not the start of migration to the city.

The history of migration to Hong Kong dates back to ancient times. The people of Zhongyuan in the central plains who fled to Guangdong and Hong Kong were fleeing the invading Barbarians from the North.

The migration trend in 1949 was sparked by “people who opposed the CCP or its way of life sought refuge in Hong Kong,” which is also why Hong Kong was dubbed “a city of refuge,” Shi said. .

Shi was amazed by British scholars, who saved everything that was in the hands of Chinese scholars in Hong Kong.

The CCP banished many intellectuals during the Cultural Revolution. A few of them moved to Hong Kong and the British managed to save their talents as well as their knowledge. It was amazing.

Epoch Times Photo
The 3rd Intangible Cultural Heritage Market. Chow Chou’s drum performance on Oct. 29, 2018. (TM Chan/The Epoch Times)

The British founded the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 1949. It was headed by one of the four greatest historians of modern China, Qian Mu. One of the campuses, the New Asia College, had been able to preserve much of the essence of Chinese culture.

In Hong Kong, writers Louis Cha Leung-yung (Jin Yong) and Ni Kuang were also immigrants; lyricist James Wong Jim and food columnist Chua Lam. (Chua Lam was not born in China, but in Singapore. His father emigrated to Singapore.)

The quartet has been hailed as the four talented men, who pioneered and contributed to Hong Kong’s art, literature and music industries.

In a 2014 interview, pop culture sociologist Ng Chung-hung spoke to the South China Morning Post (SCMP) about the end-of-the-chain legend. Ng called James Wong “Jim the lyrical genius”.

“It captures the genuine feelings and thoughts of the masses at a particular time. If you want to know what people looked like in the 1950s, don’t ask history experts. You should find out which songs were the most popular at the time. He told the SCMP.

Epoch Times Photo
Hong Konger Aaron has been “looking for incense” since the age of 15. Now he is committed to promoting the cultivation of incense. Aaron talks about making incense in August 2021 (TM Chan/The Epoch Times)

While each was unique in their talents, all shared common interests: dedication and passion for Hong Kong culture.

Shi Shan also echoed Ng’s thoughts. He thought their work reflected every element of Chinese culture. Shi described it as “classic, with hints of ancient Chinese history”.

Meanwhile, Shi recalled the cultural intellectuals who remained in China after 1949. While they were well educated and published, Shi Shan admitted that he did not admire them.

He felt that some people lost their backbones to the CCP once the regime took power.

Unlike the cowards, Shi continued; Ni Kuang was a Shanghainese who has never looked back since fleeing to Hong Kong.

Ni was well known for his outspoken, humorous, and anti-CCP personality. Ni had publicly shared his dissatisfaction with the regime on numerous occasions. Ni once said, “I will never go back to China until the CCP falls.”

The late novelist also concluded: Things have never changed in his hometown between then and now: “Modern Shanghai is as backward as it was in 1949.”

Hong Kong has helped China restore its culture.

For Shi, Hong Kong’s contribution to China’s reform and opening up is indisputable. The same goes for its impact on China’s development, both economically and in life as a whole.

According to Shi’s recollection, during the Cultural Revolution, restaurants in China had a “pay first, eat later” policy. The rule was to prevent people from dining and rushing. “It was the same everywhere in China. Only restaurants in Guangdong serve with a little preservation of Chinese traditions. The “Pay First” rule was still in a few restaurants, but these were in the minority. Guangzhou was the only place in China where you could eat first and pay later.

Epoch Times Photo
Lin Heung Tea House, opened in 1927, offers traditional dim sum. Diners enjoying their meal in March 2019. (TM Chan/The Epoch Times)

Shi then saw where the culture of China and Hong Kong had branched off. It was a “trust no one” and “money comes first” society in communist China as opposed to a “share and care” community in Hong Kong.

Things changed when the mainland began to open up in the late 1970s. Restaurants in Guangdong cloned the business models of Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong.

Shi described “full table setups in Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong. Each table was covered with a tablecloth. Everyone had their own plates, cups and a teapot. We ordered after everything was arranged and settled. We paid after eating.

It was a mixture of Chinese and British culture, only accessible to the colony.

Soon “The Canton Style”, originating in Hong Kong, took over Chinese restaurants around the world.

This is also how Hong Kong was introduced and brought to the rest of the world.

Hong Kong films became known overseas as their art and culture continued to spread. Kung Fu films featuring martial arts actors such as Bruce Lee and Samuel Hung were highly regarded overseas.

“Everyone loved Hong Kong Kung Fu,” Shi said. Foreigners often assumed that everyone in Hong Kong knew Kung Fu, including himself.

Epoch Times Photo
Hong Kong Cultural Museum’s Bruce Lee Exhibition Hall in November 2021. (Sung Pi-Lung/The Epoch Times)

The hypothesis proved life-saving when he moved to the UK. Shi worked as a taxi driver in slums in east London. Crimes and thefts were common. Luckily, Shi was never robbed in the two years he was a taxi driver. He said it was because “rumor has it” in the community that he “knew” and “practiced” Chinese Kung Fu like Bruce Lee. No one wanted to play with him.

Hong Kong connects Chinese culture to the West

Shi said bluntly that without Hong Kong, mainland China could never have evolved economically and socially as it is today.

“Of course, mainland China copied a lot from Hong Kong, superficially. They never learned the essence and the most important part of Hong Kong, like the rule of law. Shi validated.

Epoch Times Photo
Hong Kong Dragon Boat Carnival, players from many countries around the world hold a dragon boat celebration on June 9, 2017. (Adrian Yu/The Epoch Times)

Shi said it was unfortunate that mainland China never recognized the value of Hong Kong. It is also heartbreaking for him to see the deterioration of Hong Kong. He believed that Hong Kong had yet to be fully explored in modern China and human history.

Shi seemed hopeful for the city, however: “Hong Kong is a melting pot. It has a mixture of all the good of the east and the west, which has become the modern Chinese society. Hong Kong is truly a priceless place.

The opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Epoch Times.

Nie Law

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