Project Details
Funding Scheme : General Research Fund
Project Number : 18400114
Project Title(English) : Leung Ping-kwan’s Literary Works and Hong Kong Modernism  
Project Title(Chinese) : 梁秉鈞的文學創作與香港現代主義 
Principal Investigator(English) : Dr Au, Chung To 
Principal Investigator(Chinese) : 區仲桃 
Department : Department of Literature and Cultural Studies
Institution : The Education University of Hong Kong
E-mail Address : auct@ied.edu.hk 
Tel :  
Co - Investigator(s) :
Panel : Humanities, Social Sciences
Subject Area : Humanities and Arts
Exercise Year : 2014 / 15
Fund Approved : 251,000
Project Status : Completed
Completion Date : 30-6-2017
Project Objectives :
To conceptualise the major characteristics of Hong Kong modernism by examining Leung’s literary works
To systematically study Leung’s literary works by concentrating on their relationship with Hong Kong modernism from three perspectives: the ordinary, postcolonialism and Chinese lyrical tradition
To serve as a reference point for future studies on Hong Kong modernism
Abstract as per original application
Leung Ping-kwan (Ye Si) is one of the most prominent and widely read Hong Kong modernist poets, novelists and critics. However, comparatively few in-depth studies have been conducted on the works of Leung as a modernist writer. I interviewed Leung in 2009, and when Leung was asked whether he would consider himself a modernist, his answer was yes. Despite his self-perception as a modernist, however, only a few scholarly works focus on the direct relationship between Leung’s works and modernism. Instead, Leung’s works are always discussed from various perspectives, such as from the perspectives of ordinary life/things, urbanisation, postcolonialism, magical realism, travelogue and Chinese lyrical tradition. This project will use the main corpus of Leung’s works as examples to demonstrate how he brings these apparently disparate but actually connected topics under the umbrella of Hong Kong modernism and helps to enrich the meaning of the literary movement. More specifically, this study will focus on three distinctive features of Hong Kong modernism which are observed in Leung’s works, namely, its relation to the ordinary, postcolonialism and Chinese literary tradition. Food, ordinary people and objects as well as our daily living space in Hong Kong are some of Leung’s favourite topics. Elements of postcolonialism and Chinese literary tradition are also frequently found in his work. Although studies on these three characteristics are not lacking, these characteristics are seldom discussed alongside Leung’s commitment to modernism. On the other hand, recent research suggests that Western modernism tends to depict ordinary life. The connections of Western modernism with postcolonialism and literary traditions have been widely discussed for decades. In comparison, relatively few studies have focused on Hong Kong modernism and its relationship with such concepts. This project strives to bridge this research gap by actively examining their precise relationships in the context of Hong Kong modernism. Leung once questioned the suitability and feasibility of adopting Western postcolonial theories to explain the colonial situation in Hong Kong. I will take Leung’s scepticism as far as possible as a strategy to study Hong Kong modernism. Thus, Western modernist theories serve only as a theoretical backdrop for this study. I believe that a systematic study of the literary works of Leung will help us to understand not only the distinctive features of his works, but also the precise uniqueness of Hong Kong modernism.
梁秉鈞(也斯)是香港其中一位最重要的現代主義詩人、小說家及評論家,他的作品備受廣泛的關注;然而,對其現代主義作品進行詳細及深入分析的評論卻相對不多。我在2009年曾經訪問梁秉鈞,其中一個問題是:他認為自己是現代主義者嗎?梁的答案是肯定的。雖然梁秉鈞認為自己是現代主義者,但有關梁跟現代主義的研究並不多,我們較多看到的是其他各種各樣的研究方向,例如: 梁秉鈞的作品跟城市化、殖民/後殖民主義、魔幻現實主義、遊記體、抒情傳統及日常生活或日常事物等關係。這個研究計劃會以梁秉鈞的主要作品為例,說明梁把以上這些看似無關連但實際上關係千絲萬縷的話題同時放在他的作品中,直接豐富了香港現代主義的內容。 為了達到上述的目的,這項研究會集中分析在梁秉鈞作品所包含的三個香港現代主義重要面向,它們包括:香港現代主義跟日常生活、殖民主義及中國文學傳統的關係。食物、普通人及物,還有就是香港日常的生活空間等都是梁秉鈞喜歡的話題。同樣地,後殖民主義和文學傳統等元素亦經常出現在梁的作品中。雖然對於這些題材的討論大不乏人,但把這些話題納入現代主義的討論中卻較少見。 事實上,最近有不少研究顯示西方現代主義作品傾向描述日常生活。同樣地,西方現代主義和後殖民主義及文學傳統的關連在過去一段日子亦受到廣泛的討論。相比之下,香港現代主義跟這些概念之間的討論絕無僅有,這個研究計劃旨在補充這個漏洞,積極探討這些話題與香港現代主義之間的關係。 梁秉鈞曾質疑引用西方的殖民/後殖民理論來說明香港殖民狀況的適當性及可行性。我會將梁的懷疑論視為一種策略,用來探討香港現代主義,因此在整個研究的過程中西方現代主義理論只是被看作一種理論背景、一個參照點。我相信對梁秉鈞的文學作品進行有系統的研究不單會幫助我們理解其作品的特色,更可以讓我們明白香港現代主義獨特的地方。
Realisation of objectives: The project’s objectives stated below have been achieved, as demonstrated by my research outputs (please refer to Part C). To achieve this end, I have divided my study into five stages. In the first stage, I have examined the topic of modernisms in Hong Kong in the context of Western modernisms and Chinese modernism of the 1940s, with special references to Leung Ping-kwan, and other two Hong Kong modernist writers Liu Yichang and Ma Lang. The relationships among modernisms, the traditional, the ordinary, the colonial situations, and translation stood out as crucially important as a result. I have studied these issues in detail during the research period. I have examined the relationship between Hong Kong modernism and the Chinese literary traditions in the second stage. By doing this, the Chinese lyrical tradition and the yongwu tradition (tradition about objects) embodied in Leung’s work have been studied in the context of Hong Kong modernism. Leung Ping-kwan embedded and innovated ideas of the lyrical, as well as things or objects (wu), in his literary work which can be generally divided into four types: the lyrical novel, lyrical poetry, yongwu poems, and yongwu novels. So far as the Chinese lyrical tradition is concerned, it is interesting to note that Leung Ping-kwan started rejuvenating the tradition in the form of the novel instead of in poetry. Nonetheless, he did not consider his experiments successful and had to admit that poetry was a better form to present the lyrical. It was probably no coincidence that Leung ‘rewrote’ and rejuvenated nine Shijing poems of the same names, entitled “Shijing Exercise,” in his later years. The rejuvenation of the yongwu tradition is complicated since the definition of things and the relationship between human beings and things has been changing dramatically in recent years. Leung started writing yongwu poems (poems on objects) instead of novels as early as the 1970s and he intended to reinvigorate this sub-genre of the Chinese literary tradition. At some point, Leung’s yongwu poems were mainly referred to as food poetry. His inclusion of the “Liaozhai poetry” series in his book entitled East West Matters definitely helps us reconsider various issues, for example, the changing relationship between human beings and things, including food, sub-humans, animals, and so on, not to mention the fact that another topic in modernisms–primitivism–emerges in Leung’s works as a result. And due to the limitations of the poetic form, the changing roles played by things (in this case, food) and human beings cannot be effectively reflected by food poetry. Nor can the changing relationship between things and human beings in the modern world be presented clearly in Leung’s “Liaozhai poetry” series. He eventually achieved his goal through depicting food and things in such novels as Shimen the Dragon-keeper and Postcolonial Affairs of Food and the Heart, which I consider to be yongwu novels. The subtle connection between ordinary and Hong Kong modernism as manifested in Leung Ping-kwan’s works have been studied in the third stage. So far as the concept of the ordinary is concerned, perhaps the major difference between Leung and his Western counterparts is that there is no such thing as ordinary ‘ordinary’ in Hong Kong, which means he took nothing for granted. If the ordinary generally refers to things that we take for granted, Leung proposed that the colonial situation in Hong Kong suggests otherwise. Thus, Leung had to invent the ordinary, which resulted in depicting different daily things such as home, food, medicine, clothes, and so on, in his literary works. For example, Leung could not find a homely home in Hong Kong, but managed to invent an ordinary place out of the extraordinary: he found home away from home. Similarly, to what extent the axiom ‘you are what you eat’ may help forge a Hong Kong residents’ identity? The poet believed that, despite changes in food’s appearance, its essence could be discovered or recollected in different places. Clothes used to help people develop a stable identity, whereas modern fashion provides the tools for people to construct multiple identities or to hide their identities. In his poetry series Clothink Leung used the character of Alice from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as a reference point. He suggests that Alice can remain unchanged despite their change in appearance. Healthcare is also considered a part of our everyday life. Nonetheless, if the kind of disease—especially mental disease—was evoked by colonialism, the disease itself would become something ordinary, while medical treatment would be considered something extraordinary. Leung’s “Paper Cut-outs” and “An Acrobat’s Story” are novels that provoke deep thoughts in this regard. Perhaps the relationship between colonial/postcolonial studies and Leung’s modernism is the most complicated of all, and is manifested in two sub-genres, namely travelogues and magical realist novels, which have been discussed during the fourth stage of study. The travelogue is often seen as a form of cultural imperialism employed exclusively by colonizers. Recent attempt to study alternative travelogues suggests both the need to study ‘countertravel writing’ and to explore the complexity of the literary form. It is believed that by offering an opportunity to reflect on the possibility of writing travelogues from the perspective of the colonized shows how the genre can be understood in a sense that is not informed by imperialist ideology, if not one that subverts it. Leung’s travelogues, however, further distinguish themselves from those of the colonized and the colonizer in terms of perspective. Since he did not believe in a single perspective, he thought neither traditional travelogues nor ‘counter-travel writing’ could help to develop multiple perspectives. Thus, Leung tried to develop multiple perspectives in his travelogues. In a similar manner, many Western studies suggest that magical realism is a means of challenging colonialism. According to these studies, magical realism has numerous variants because of its controversial, complicated origins and its international nature. A close study of Leung’s two magical realist novels, Shimen and Paper Cut-outs, will reveal that although the author stated that his works were influenced by Latin American magical realism, the kind of magical realism found in his novels is definitely different from that of Latin America. Leung’s adaptation of magical realism in his writings of the 1970s raises numerous questions that undoubtedly contribute to our understanding of one other aspect of Hong Kong modernism. For instance, to what extent are Leung’s magical realist novels different from their Latin American counterparts? What are the reasons for the differences? One possible answer to these questions is again related to Leung’s preference for multiple perspectives. In the last stage of my study, I have summarized the modernist features embodied in Leung’s works by means of examining his translations. In collaboration with Osing, Leung translated his forty poems into English. Examining the differences between the original and the translated versions helps to manifest the major characteristics of Leung’s modernist work, namely celebrating multiple perspectives and inclusiveness. With a closer look at all these , these two features are in fact embodied in all the topics discussed in this project, though most of the time the reader may be distracted by various elements presented in Leung’s work.
Summary of objectives addressed:
Objectives Addressed Percentage achieved
1.To conceptualise the major characteristics of Hong Kong modernism by examining Leung’s literary works Yes100%
2.To systematically study Leung’s literary works by concentrating on their relationship with Hong Kong modernism from four perspectives: the ordinary, postcolonialism, Chinese literary tradition, and translationYes100%
3.To serve as a reference point for future studies on Hong Kong modernism Yes100%
Research Outcome
Major findings and research outcome: During the period under review, two refereed journal papers, and one refereed book chapter have been published (Pls. refer to Part C for further information). They are: Au C. T. "Reading Colonial Dis-ease/Disease in Hong Kong Modernist Fiction". New Directions in Literature and Medicine Studies. Eds. Stephanie M. Hilger. London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017. 267-280. 區仲桃。 〈也斯旅遊文學中的多元角度〉。《中外文學》,46(1) 2017 。頁45-75。 區仲桃。 〈詩經練習:試論梁秉鈞對香港現代主義詩歌抒情性的繼承〉。《淡江中文學報》,第32期, 2015。頁313-330。 In addition, five referred conference papers and two public talks were presented, which are: (Conference papers) 1. Au Chung-to (2017, July): “Alternative Travelogue: A Study of Leung Ping-kwan’s Modernist Novels”. The International conference on “Modernisms and Modernities East, West and South: Comparing Literary and Cultural Experiences”. Shanghai: Fudan University. 2. Au Chung-to (2017, June): “The Theme of Identity Formation in ‘Clothink’”. The 2017 Association of Chinese & Comparative Literature Conference. Hong Kong: The Chinese University of Hong Kong. 3. Au Chung-to (2016, July): “The Desire of the Translator: A Study of Leung Ping-kwan’s Translations”. The XXI Congress of International Comparative Literature Association. Vienna: University of Vienna. 4. 區仲桃(2015,5):〈聊齋轉世——梁秉鈞詩中的物化主題〉,島和世界──也斯國際學術研討會,香港: 香港嶺南大學。 5. Au Chung-to (2015, April): "Western Medicine in Hong Kong Modernist Fiction". The International Conference on The History of Hong Kong: Interpreting History through Culture and Literature. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Institute of Education. (Public Talks) 1. 〈尋找香港/香港人:也斯的香港故事〉。香港:香港文學館, 2015年6月6日。 2. 〈香港文學 X 現代主義〉文學串流研討會,香港藝術發展局 (2016/1)。 Another journal paper, one book chapter, and one book manuscript are currently undergoing peer review. Much of my research outputs revolve around those three project objectives. I have systematically studied Leung Ping-kwan’s literary works by concentrating on their relationship with Hong Kong modernism from four perspectives, namely, the ordinary, post colonialism, Chinese literary tradition, and translation. Based on the research findings, a road map for future studies has been created.
Potential for further development of the research
and the proposed course of action:
I will continue working on several problems that are directly downstream of my current research. These all relate to Hong Kong literature and culture, including (1) the development of conceptions of the Hong Kong lyrical tradition; (2) the uniqueness of Hong Kong travelogue; and (3) the reception of magical realism in Hong Kong literature. All these areas are natural outgrowths of my current GRF project, which have not received enough attention before. As far as the study of conceptions of the Chinese lyrical tradition is concerned, there are two main issues that need to be addressed. First, critics always focus on the relationship between elite culture and the Chinese lyrical tradition. The close relationship among popular culture, cultural identity formation, and the Chinese lyrical tradition suggested by Chen Shih-hsiang has mostly neglected. Second, critics showed least interest in developing conceptions of a Hong Kong lyrical tradition. I suggest that a study of the conceptions of a Hong Kong lyrical tradition can help fill the research gaps. I have already included these issues in my new GRF application (2018/2019). Other research areas that may consider developing external grant proposals are Hong Kong travelogue and magical realist writing.
Layman's Summary of
Completion Report:
Given the relatively few studies that have been conducted on the relationship between Leung Ping-kwan and Hong Kong modernism, it is my goal that the issues — The relationships among modernisms, the traditional, the ordinary, the colonial situations, and translation — covered in my project will help re-orient Leung’s position in Hong Kong modernist literature and subsequently reposition Hong Kong modernism in the study of modernisms. As the project unfolds, we see how Leung, in order to understand his past, paid special attention to Chinese literary traditions. In order to forge his identity, he attempted to depict and invent ordinary things. The colonial condition in Hong Kong naturally drew Leung's interest to magical realist writing and ‘counter-travel writing,’ which were mostly created by other colonized writers. Nevertheless, it is obvious that Leung’s modernist features are different from those of the colonizer or the colonized. He found Hongkongers’ identities as fragmented instead of being unified. However, Leung believed that Hongkongers could develop and discover a unified self somewhere and sometime. This belief contributed to the development of Leung’s modernist features—celebrating multiple perspectives and inclusiveness—which are also the uniqueness of Hong Kong modernism.
Research Output
Peer-reviewed journal publication(s)
arising directly from this research project :
(* denotes the corresponding author)
Year of
Author(s) Title and Journal/Book Accessible from Institution Repository
2015 Au Chung To  〈詩經練習:試論梁秉鈞對香港現代主義詩歌抒情性的繼承〉。《淡江中文學報》,第32期, 2015。頁313-330。  No 
2017 C. T. Au  "Reading Colonial Dis-ease/Disease in Hong Kong Modernist Fiction". Palgrave Handbook of Literature and Medicine. Ed. Stephanie M. Hilger. London and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017. 267-280.  No 
2017 Au C. T.  也斯旅遊文學中的多元角度 《中外文學》46(1)。頁46-75 。  No 
Au C. T.  <梁秉鈞詠物詩的現代轉化>《成大中文學報》  No 
Au C. T.  "The Poetics of In-bewteen-ness: A Study of Leung Ping-kwan's Translations" De Gruyter  No 
Au C. T.  The Hong Kong Modernism of Leung Ping-kwan. New York: Cambria Press.  No 
Recognized international conference(s)
in which paper(s) related to this research
project was/were delivered :
Month/Year/City Title Conference Name
Hong Kong 聊齋轉世——梁秉鈞詩中的物化主題  島和世界──也斯國際學術研討會」,香港: 香港嶺南大學。 
Hong Kong Western medicine in Hong Kong modernist fiction  The International Conference on The History of Hong Kong: Interpreting History through Culture and Literature. Hong Kong: HKIED. 
Shanghai Alternative Travelogue: A Study of Leung Ping-kwan’s Modernist Novels  Modernisms and Modernities East, West and South: Comparing Literary and Cultural Experiences 
Hong Kong The theme of identity formation in “Clothink”  2017 ACCL conference 
Vienna The Desire of the Translator: A Study of Leung Ping-kwan’s Translation  ICLA conference 2016 
Other impact
(e.g. award of patents or prizes,
collaboration with other research institutions,
technology transfer, etc.):