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"Together Again": Theater in Postcolonial Hong Kong Clayton G. Mackenzie and Moira Arthurs As the midnight handover approached on 30 June 1997, the fashionable Central district on Hong Kong Island was abuzz with merriment and apprehension.1 Atraditionalmeetingplace fortheyoung and trendy, the bars and bistros ofLan Kwai Fong heard talk ofnothing else but the imminent return ofHong Kong to Chinese rule. In more demure quarters ofthe territory, restaurants and hotels catered for those who wanted company rather than cacophony at this most momentous point ofHong Kong's twentieth-century history. Some offered Western buffets until midnight and Eastern cuisine thereafter. Union Jacks and Chinese flags mingled, but everyone knew that the mainland Chinese and British legations , mutually embittered, were holding separate transfer ceremonies at separate locations. The last colonial Governor, Chris Patten, bade a tearful farewell to Government House, his home of five years, and with his familyboarded the royalyachtBritannia, moored inVictoria Harbour. At the stroke ofmidnight more than a century ofBritish rule came to an end,and Hong Kong stood united with China once again. Soon,the television directors were focusing on truckloads ofChinese troops crossing the border into what was now the Special Administrative Region (SAR) of Hong Kong. The soldiers stood bolt upright to attention in the back oftheirvehicles.The rain poured down on them,buttheir faces remained expressionless, unflinching. I Hong Kong's artistic community must have witnessed these events with mixed feelings. To saythat Hong Kong theater had flourished unfettered under British rule would be misleading. Certainly, in the early 1990s 75 76Comparative Drama there had been a tolerance ofHong Kong's widening range oftheatrical propensities. Full male nudity came to the Hong Kong stage for the first time in 1990 with Zuni Icosahedron's production of The Deep Structure of Chinese (Hong Kong) Culture; the Hong Kong Arts Centre offered a season of gay film and theater in 1993; and a production in the 1994 Hong Kong Festival and Fringe program caused a sensation by presenting simulated sex onstage. At the time, such license would have been unthinkable on the Chinese mainland. But there had also been a form of censorship in Hong Kong, often subtle, that militated against drama of extreme political intent. The colonial administration may have had its differences with Beijing, but it did not encourage drama that offended mainland Chinese sensitivities—or, indeed, its own sensitivities. Some artistic groups and individuals saw the handover as a legitimate cue for protests against colonialism. In September 1996, local artist Pun Singlui defaced a statue of Queen Victoria in Victoria Park by hurling red paint over it and flattening the monarch's nose. Pun then poured paint over himselfas he admired his handiwork. He argued that he was merely protesting a "dull, colonial culture."2 A local magistrate handed out a four-week jail sentence and the Urban Council banned Pun from its annual artists' seminar. If the act struck a chord, it was a muted one. Fellow artists came to his defense, but the clamor died down quickly. At the opening of 1997, concerns seemed to be less about the colonial past and more about the postcolonial future. In January ofthat year, an ongoing project titled "Journey to the East 97" invited six directors from Hong Kong,the Chinese mainland, and Taiwan to set out in search of a "new" Chinese theater. Each directed a short original piece using a format sometimes used in Chinese opera—"one table, two chairs"3 (a delightful reworking of the "one country, two systems" epithet that defined the mainland Chinese political approach to Hong Kong in the runup to the handover). Edward Lam Yik-wah, a Hong Kong director, reworked a familiar theme ofthe early 1990s: the question ofHong Kong's identity in relation to China and, particularly, Shanghai. This had become a familiar theme of pre-1997 Hong Kong theater. While a British colony, Hong Kong could readily distinguish itself from its metropolitan counterparts on the Chinese mainland but, with the return to Chinese sovereignty, many feared that the territory would become just an- Clayton G. MacKenzie and Moira Arthurs77 other city in China. Taiwanese director Edward Yang's short play, A 1997 Rhapsody, amusingly...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 75-87
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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