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Questions of Identity in Contemporary Hong Kong Theater Clayton G. MacKenzie In July 1997, Hong Kong will be handed over to the control of the People's Republic of China (or "mainland China," as is the customary phrase) after more than a century of British rule. The Cantonese, who populate Hong Kong and a good deal of southern China, have tolerated the foreign presence fairly amicably and have benefited from the territory's low taxation and trade freedoms . Today, Hong Kong is one of the world's most dynamic financial centers. In most banks there are video monitors displaying the latest share prices on the Hang Seng Index; at underground stations large screens trail live foreign currency exchange rates. Pocket pagers bringing instant financial news are commonplace ; portable telephones are ubiquitous. By and large, Hong Kong is a vibrant, financially-oriented, sophisticated, and informed society. Cantonese movies with English subtitles offer one of the many benefits of living in Hong Kong. They are an immensely popular formula-oriented art form. One story runs something along these lines: a mainland Chinese policeman arrives in Hong Kong to investigate a crime. He is gauche and unsophisticated —a sort of Chinese Inspector Clouseau. Someone's mobile phone rings next to him on a bus and he jumps with fright. He tells jokes that no one finds funny; he orders a beer and then swaps it for a glass of tap water because he considers the price extortionate; he is baffled by dishwashers, compact disk players, kettles that turn themselves off, urinals that flush automatically. Predictably he solves the crime; predictably, the smart, sophisticated Hong Kong heroine, who has spent so much of the film in scornful mood, falls in love with him. The intentions of Cantonese films are usually comic, and perhaps we should not take them too seriously as comments on the 203 204Comparative Drama human condition. Yet, like most comedy worthy of the name, they provide some modicum of social insight. The point they make often and firmly is that Hong Kong Chinese consider themselves very different from mainland Chinese. There seems at least some foundation for such a belief. The Cantonese language of Hong Kong is noticeably different to the Cantonese language of southern China. Workers in Hong Kong earn salaries far in excess of those paid to people doing the same job just across the border in Shenzhen. Hong Kong has the highest proportion of Mercedes Benz automobiles outside of Germany—and the highest proportion of Rolls Royces anywhere. Until recently, Shenzhen and the province around it did not have a single dual carriageway. Cantonese speaking residents will readily ascribe to their description as "Hong Kong Chinese," but virtually none would consider themselves to be "mainland Chinese." As 1997 approaches , this difference begins to loom large. Across the road from Hong Kong Baptist University in Kowloon Tong, the barracks which presently house British soldiers will, after 1 July 1997, house soldiers of the People's Liberation Army. The Governor 's residence on Hong Kong Island which is currently occupied by Chris Patten, will, on 1 July 1997, welcome the first Chinese Governor of Hong Kong. He will be a high ranking Communist Party official—a member of the same government that confronted demonstrating students at Tiananmen Square on 2-4 June 1989. On 1 July 1997 Hong Kong will undergo a change in political status as dramatic and profound as any territory has experienced in modern times. This paper is most interested in the theater that has been written and performed in Hong Kong in the period following June 1989. There will be little mention of what might be termed the more traditional theater of Hong Kong, be it traditionally Chinese or traditionally English. And that means there will be little reference to some of the better known theater groups of Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Players, for example, continue to perform works from the mainstream canon of British and specifically English theater. Formed through the amalgamation of the Hong Kong Stage Club and the Garrison Players, their statement of unification avowed an essential commitment to English dramatics .1 Like the Hong Kong Repertory Company, which performs classic Chinese...


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pp. 203-215
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