The Window To The Chinese-language World

The following is a partial translation from a speech by Lung Ying-tai (龍應臺) on the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of Ming Pao Monthly magazine.  The original Chinese text was published in the April 2006 issue of Ming Pao Monthly, p. 39-41.

As Ms. Zhang Yihuo just said: if such a forum on such a topic were held in China, she would not have participated.  Frankly speaking, if such a forum in such a format were held in Hong Kong, I would ordinarily not participate.

But I did come today.  And I even bought an airplane ticket to come here.  I think that (Pan) Yiu-ming must know why I came.  But I genuinely want to be today in order to express the admiration in my heart for two people.  One of them is Mr. Louis Cha (Jin Yong) and the other is the person beside me, Mr. Hu Juren who is making me proud.

Mr. Jin Yong (金庸) founded Ming Pao Monthly in 1966 when the Cultural Revolution began.  He stated in black letters on white paper that he started Ming Pao Monthly in order to oppose the Cultural Revolution.  It is this spirit that persuaded me to come today to attend this function.  In tribute to Mr. Jin Yong and to his editor-in-chief at the time, Mr. Hu Juren (胡菊人), I bow deeply to them.

At the time, it was not just Ming Pao Monthly and Mr. Jin Yong who opposed the Cultural Revolution.  There was also President Chiang Kai-shek in Taiwan.  How did that go?  In 1966, I was fourteen years old and I suddenly found out that I was getting more calligraphy classes at school.  I had to practice calligraphy and I had to write with the brush.  I also suddenly realized that I was getting more of the basic teachings in Chinese culture -- the Confucian classics.  In 1966, Mr. Chiang Kai-shek began the Chinese Cultural Renaissance Movement, and we were involved in that movement.  Thirty years later, I found out that the KMT started the Chinese Cultural Renaissance Movement in order to oppose the Cultural Revolution.

But when Taiwan used the Chinese Cultural Renaissance Movement to oppose the Cultural Revolution, it was qualitatively very different from Mr. Jin Yong using Ming Pao Monthly in Hong Kong in 1966 to oppose the Cultural Revolution!  The space created by Mr. Jin Yong in Ming Pao Monthly was a genuinely free space.  In Taiwan, it appeared to be an opposing battle to protect Chinese culture, but the actual space was not a neutral and open one.  Therefore, although these events occurred in the same era and their languages and purposes appear to be the same, their cores were quite different.  Today, I come here to pay special tribute to them for creating a neutral space and for having the courage and vision at that time.

If Ming Pao Monthly is treated as a cultural symbol while the Cultural Revolution is regarded as a barbaric force, then you can see that whose power has risen or waned after 1966.  It is clear: the cacophony of the Cultural Revolution has vanished without a sound into the dust.  What about Ming Pao Monthly?  We are still here to defend her and to congratulate her.  But have you thought about whether culture has really triumphed?  Today, we can come here to congratulate Ming Pao Monthly on its fortieth anniversary, but do you see anyone reflecting upon or memorializing the fortieth anniversary of the Cultural Revolution?  So can you say the culture really triumphed?  It does not seem so.  This can be a very big question mark.

I come here today to tell everybody, especially Mr. Hu Juren, about something that the people Hong Kong may not know.  Our generation -- that is, the Taiwan university students of the 1970's -- absorbed the cultural elements from Mr. Jin Yong, Ming Pao Monthly and Mr. Hu Juren.  I remember how we used blankets to seal up all the windows in the basement, and then we listened to Mr. Chen Gang's violin concerto The Butterfly Concerto surreptitiously.  We read the teacher-student correspondence between Mr. Yin Hai-kuang (殷海光) and Mr. Lin Yu-sheng (林毓生).  We saw how Mr. Yin Hai-kuang lived under the high pressure of the KMT and begged his students to bring in various magazines and books from Hong Kong.  At the time, Hong Kong was a window to freedom for Taiwan.  It was the only place that had the air of freedom.

Actually, Hong Kong has always played the role of the window.  Today, she is no longer a window for Taiwan in that sense, but she is still the only window for mainland China.  This is a role that she has played since 1949 for almost 60 years.  But if we go back even further, when Japan invaded China in the 1940's, did not Hong Kong also serve as the third space for ideas?  If you go even further back, you will find that in the history of the century, Hong Kong has played the roles of window and lifeline.

Today is the fortieth anniversary of Ming Pao Monthly.  There is something makes me very curious.  I realized a contradiction -- namely, a thoughtful publication such as Ming Pao Monthly does not even exist in Taiwan.  Ordinarily, we hold Hong Kong in contempt.  Frankly speaking, Hong Kong is the city with the fewest number of readers.  In a city that lacks ideas, culture and passion for knowledge, how come it has a publication such as Ming Pao Monthly?

When I thought about it some more, I understood.  Actually, this is not so strange after all.  Why?  As I just said, for a hundred years, Hong Kong was a window to Chinese culture.  Hong Kong is a stage.  When you shine the light on the stage, it is lit.  But her audience is actually not just in Hong Kong.  Her audience are in mainland China, Taiwan, Malaysia, the whole Chinese-language world.  Her stage is very small and there are only a few audience by stage side.  But her light, her light and shadow on the stage, illuminates the entire Chinese-language world.

I have taught in Hong Kong for two and a half years.  On one hand, I really felt that the culturati in Hong Kong -- whether they are editors or writers -- are lonelier than the editors or culturati in mainland China and Taiwan.  When they walk on the streets, it is highly unlikely that they are recognized by people.  The likelihood of them being exposed on radio or television is very low.  They are people behind the scenes, they receive very little applause and even their salaries are especially low.  This is very perplexing.

This is because even though their stage is in Hong Kong, their audience is in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Taipei.  Therefore, they cannot hear the applause and they cannot see the audience.  The culturati in Hong Kong are truly lonesome.  Today, I stand here and I want to specially tell the Hong Kong culturati as well as all those who have put in efforts for Ming Pao Monthly that it is not true that there was no applause.  The fact that there were so many people at the reception yesterday and so many people here today means that you may not ordinarily hear any applause and you don't even see the audience, but they do exist in truth, just as a little bit of candlelight can illuminate an entire dark room.  I want to say first that I pay tribute to my forebears for having given me elements of culture and thought.  I want to say to the Hong Kong culturati that the applause had always been there and the light was also shone on your bodies -- we can all see it.

In the past two and a half years, no matter whether it is the annual silent June 4th sit-in, or the July 1st march, or the December 4th march, or the rejection/restart of the Western Kowloon Cultural District plan, or the debate over political reform, I get very nervous.  I am nervous for a reason, because I know that the neutral, open and free space of Hong Kong did not come easily.  There is more than a hundred years of history, and this is a Hong Kong core value.  But I don't think too many Hong Kong persons recognize this point.

As a valuable lifeline, a window for culture and thought and a tiny stage that illuminates the entire Chinese-language world, Hong Kong is a free space that is especially valuable to me.  Therefore, I will participate in any sit-in or march because I think that everyone who lives on this island ought to treasure her, protect her and defend her.  The free space is not just enjoyed by the people of Hong Kong, for she is the window and lifeline for the entire Chinese-language world.  Therefore, we thank Hong Kong and we also need to defend Hong Kong.