Project Details
Funding Scheme : General Research Fund
Project Number : 18606417
Project Title(English) : 丘世文及《號外》研究:香港七、八十年代的書寫語言及身分認同 A Study on Joseph Yau and City Magazine: The Written Languages and Identities of Hong Kong in 1970s-80s  
Project Title(Chinese) : 丘世文及《號外》研究:香港七、八十年代的書寫語言及身分認同 
Principal Investigator(English) : Dr Li, Yuen Mei Fanny 
Principal Investigator(Chinese) : 李婉薇 
Department : Department of Literature and Cultural Studies
Institution : The Education University of Hong Kong
E-mail Address : fannyli@ied.edu.hk 
Tel : 29487216 
Co - Investigator(s) :
Prof Snow, Don
Panel : Humanities, Social Sciences
Subject Area : Humanities and Arts
Exercise Year : 2017 / 18
Fund Approved : 311,996
Project Status : Completed
Completion Date : 30-6-2020
Project Objectives :
Abstract as per original application

Realisation of objectives: The selected book chapter, “A Turning Point in History of Cantonese Writing: City Magazine and its Views on Languages in 1980s Hong Kong”, aims at explaining the importance of Cantonese Writing in the process of identity building. Objective 3 is regarded as the theme of the chapter. In this way, it would be fully realized. The PI, the sole author of the preparing chapter, would introduce five major parts of content to argue that attitudes and choices of written languages of founders and writers of City Magazine in the late 1970s and 1980s, signified a critical change in the relation of identity and written languages of Hong Kong. The five major parts of the contents are as follow: 1. Economic and demographic changes of Hong Kong in the 1970s The “Baby Boom” after WWII signified critical changes in the history, culture, and literature of Hong Kong. In the mid-1970s, some young literati of this baby boomer generation who had studied in America and Europe came back to Hong Kong shortly after finishing their programs. This generation, unlike their parents’ generations, did not have a hometown in Mainland China to return to and Hong Kong has become their hometown. The convergence of the economic take-off and maturity of baby boomers contributed innovative energy and openness of visions to Hong Kong culture which further flourished in the 1980s. There were many significant features in this baby-boomer generation. Their cultural activities and products became milestones of literature, publication, film industry, etc. City Magazine is one of the most representative examples. 2. Background of the founders and writers of City Magazine The major founders, editors, and writers of City Magazine, e.g. Chan Koon Chung (1952-), Joseph Yau Sai Man (1951-1998), and Dunn Siu-Yue (1952-) are all baby-boomers. This generation was born and grown up in a city that no longer a migration place of refugees. From this generation onwards, identity issues of local-born Hongkongers became inevitable. Their childhood and life goals are completely different from their parents who mostly fled from mainland China in the 1950s. In addition, Chan, Yau and Dunn were well-educated elites. They graduated from local famous secondary schools and university, continued their study in America and Europe. The social and educational backgrounds were influential in forming their international visions. Chan and the editorial team cared much about the social and cultural development of Hong Kong rather than the sustainability of tradition in China. Like many baby boomers in other countries in the 1960s and 70s, they were discontent about the reality and believed that they could, at least to a certain extent, changed this reality for a better future. Writings and publications were regarded as useful tools in the period especially Chan and Dunn were further educated Journalism in America. With the contributions of talented editors and writers, City Magazine further developed the local Hong Kong identity by using a kind of written language that contained Standard Chinese, Cantonese, and English. This turned City Magazine into a “trendsetter” in written Cantonese as even educated elites valued the vernacular as a written language. 3. Discussions of written languages in City Magazine By analyzing the views and discussions of choices in written languages, it is clear that the writers of City Magazine advocated an equal and open-minded attitude towards languages. As young intellectuals in the late 1970s and 80s, they strongly objected to the unified and static form of written languages. City Magazine suggested local identity and at the same time worldwide vision in using Cantonese. This is valuable for today’s Hong Kong when the usage of Cantonese writing becomes highly politicalized. As early as 1979, Chan emphasized the important role of “written language” by writing an essay named “City Language”. He stated clearly that Hong Kong had already had its written language. It was the printed media that still hesitated to use the unique language but only the printed media could transform innovative spoken language in daily life into readable words. In Dec 1982, Joseph Yau argued that Chinese intellectuals tried to politicalize languages to protect their social and cultural interests. (“To Purify the Chinese Language”) 4. Language use and Genres in literary works of Joseph Yau The importance of Yau’s literary works and his status in Hong Kong literature would be discussed under the consideration of this project title, i.e. usage of various written language and development of different genres. On a Weekend Bed: narratives in standard Chinese and dialogue in Cantonese, with partial English in vocabularies and sentences. Smart-Ass: in form of authentic Cantonese and “the Quotation”, a creative demonstration of anxiety, collective behavior, and consciousness, style of speaking of Hong Kong people in the 1980s-90s. 5. Conventional attitude towards written Chinese To compare and contrast the views of City Magazine, representative views of other parties would be introduced. Take the column of “Chinese Language Mailbox” (1979.6 – 1981.11) of Overseas Chinese Daily News as an example, a reader of Baptist College suggested that “Because of popularization of social education, there is mixture usage of regional dialects. ‘national language of literature’ and ‘literature of national language’ cannot be implemented. In addition, Chinese writing becomes unclear in the meaning of vocabularies, not understandable in structure, mix with slangs and vulgar sentences…” It was not surprising that editors of City Magazine received complaints when they published essays with hybrid language consists of Standard Chinese, English, and Cantonese. In Part 1 & 2, PI would explain the origin and background of the emergence of written languages of City Magazine and why this is closely related to the identity establishment process in the 1970s and 80s. Part 3 & 4 analyze why and how writers and editors of City Magazine cannot use Standard Chinese only and reveal the important meaning of this choice. As stated above, much persuasive and interesting evidence would be involved. These four parts would fully realize Objectives 1 & 2 and contribute to Objective 3 as the theme of the chapter. Part 5 is indispensable in revealing identity issues in language choice. It is important in providing a convincing comparison to contrast language views of City Magazine is contradictory against major cultural and educational parties. In this way, this part helps to realize Objectives 1 & 2.
Summary of objectives addressed:
Objectives Addressed Percentage achieved
Research Outcome
Major findings and research outcome: The major findings are as follow: 1. There is imitate relationship between the mother tongue and its people. The value of local languages is irreplaceable and should be regarded as a resource of creativity. This finding seems only common knowledge, however, the pressure of national language upon local languages will never fade. The project emphasizes the importance of local languages in the formation of identity and cultural production. 2. Cantonese writing signifies the uniqueness of Hong Kong history, literature, and culture. Usage of Cantonese in writings serves many purposes and does not necessarily lead to localism in a narrow sense. Although Joseph Yau and City Magazine had not advocated Cantonese writing, the experience in usage of Cantonese in writing is invaluable to Hong Kong nowadays. Joseph Yau, as an important author in the history of Hong Kong literature, involved Cantonese in many different ways. He used Cantonese to represent and also criticize the local culture and characters of common Hong Kong people. The international visions on cultures and dynamic attitude regarding written languages are legacy City Magazine that needs to be reminded and reinforced. 3. Joseph Yau’s contributions to Cantonese writing and Hong Kong literature are unique and irreplaceable. There has been an acknowledgment of the contributions of Joseph Yau in local academia, however, not many specific research outputs delicate to him. This finding supplements this important blank. The representative work of Yau, On a Weekend Bed, has been an important experiment with all dialogue written in Cantonese. The breakthrough in the genre of Smart-Ass is impossible without Cantonese. The research outcome: With the publication of the book chapter, the long-term impact of the research project would exceed what the proposal stated. For the first time, research findings of Cantonese writing in literary studies would be put into the context of international academia and Sinographic Cosmopolis. Under the book title, The Politics of Language: Sinitic Scripts in Asia Since 1900, Cantonese writing in investigating from innovative perspectives like Sinitic scripts, Sinography and modernization of Asia. Brill Publishers in Leiden has been an internationally famous scholarly publisher that focuses on Sinography. Other contributors including senior scholars specialized in Asian studies are from America, Europe, Mainland China, Korea, etc. Moreover, the PI has benefited from communication with other contributors of the book when a series of online workshops were held in early May 2021. By presenting her preliminary outline of the chapter, the PI received constructive comments from scholars in Italy, America, Mainland China, and Hong Kong. (413 words)
Potential for further development of the research
and the proposed course of action:
Among many cases of Cantonese writing that have already been studied by the PI, Joseph Yau and City Magazine is especially important as it is closely related to the historical development and identity building of Hong Kong. Therefore, the research would form an important section of PI’s next monograph which focuses on the development of Cantonese writing in post-war Hong Kong. In preparing the book chapter, the PI has further communicated with linguistics. “Written Cantonese” has been a well-developed field in linguistics. The PI has been borrowed concepts and research findings from linguists. However, she finds that it is necessary to state clearly that “Cantonese Writing” is a field in literary studies. Although it can be regarded as interdisciplinary specialization closely related to social linguistics, “Cantonese Writing” is not only concerned with Cantonese as a language in that piece of literary works but also is considered as an organic component. Its literary effects, styles, and its relationship with other languages used are important approaches for analysis. At the same time, “Cantonese Writing” is different from “dialect literature” which does not emphasize very much historical, social and cultural context. In this way, the PI will broaden the boundary of literary studies. This would be another important section of her next monograph. In addition, the PI plans to further consider the possibility of investigating contributions of Cantonese Writing under the context of Asia and Sinographic Cosmopolis. (234 words)
Layman's Summary of
Completion Report:
This is a research project on Cantonese writing in literary studies. Regarding Joseph Yau and City Magazine as a representative case in the late 1970s to 80s, the project reveals the uniqueness of Hong Kong history, literature, and culture. The findings demonstrate the values and significance of local language in writing and publication in process of identity establishment. According to the views of Joseph Yau and City Magazine, choices of written languages should align with living experience and reality. In the late 1970s and 80s when Hong Kong reached its peak in economic and cultural development, the editors and writers of City Magazine found that only a “City Language” can represent the young cosmopolis. The hybridity of languages of this “City Language” symbolizes the diversity of cultures which demonstrates the unique nature and history of Hong Kong. With an in-depth investigation of discussions and literary works of Joseph Yau and City Magazine, the project emphasizes that different written languages should be regarded as creative resources in equal status. By analyzing various texts and genres in City Magazine, the research team would like to remind Hong Kong society with many valuable beliefs of Joseph Yau and City Magazine, e.g. open-minded attitude to language choice, dynamic and innovative creativity, the courage of self-criticism, and international localism. In this way, this project urges for “language awareness in heteroglossia” and “equality of language use”. The project suggests that both concepts are important in the future development of the written languages and culture of Hong Kong. (244 words)
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
2022 Li Yuen Mei Fanny  A Turning Point in History of Cantonese Writing: City Magazine and its Views on Languages in 1980s Hong Kong (tentative). Fei Chen ed., The Politics of Language: Sinitic Scripts in Asia Since 1900 (page no. to be confirmed). Leiden: Koninklijke Brill NV, The Netherlands.  No 
Recognized international conference(s)
in which paper(s) related to this research
project was/were delivered :
Other impact
(e.g. award of patents or prizes,
collaboration with other research institutions,
technology transfer, etc.):