Outside interference or Hong Kong embracing its unique identity?: The Chinese Universities Shakespeare Festival

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Ongoing clashes between Hong Kong citizens and its government have foregrounded questions about outside interference in Hong Kong’s politics (largely from the government and media of People’s Public of China), as well as debate about what institutions in Hong Kong are neo-colonial, heavily inflected with nostalgia for British colonialism, or in the process of being ‘colonised’ by the People’s Republic of China. This article looks at Shakespeare in Hong Kong (and, to some extent, greater Chinese) theatre and education as one of those contested institutions, using the particular case of the now-defunct Chinese Universities Shakespeare Festival. The author probes their initial, surface impression of the festival as a simple outpouring of colonial sentiment and impulse, using its sizeable archives to realise a reading of the institution that highlights the complexities of international and intra-regional politics, culture and identity in Hong Kong and greater China. It builds on the Hong Kong literary critic Michael Ingham’s call for attention to Hong Kong’s quest – sometimes overt (as in the demonstrations of 2019), sometimes implicit (in the body of literature Ingham explores in his cultural and literary history) – for a unique, post-colonial identity that is inspired – but, critically, not confined – by its Chinese and British histories. The article briefly outlines the origins and set-up of the festival before juxtaposing the dominance of English language and culture in it with the opportunities it presents (seized by several teams) for intra-regional cooperation, competition and sharing diverse, greater Chinese cultures. The article offers a model for critically appraising other institutions and cultural products in Hong Kong in ways that resist easy binaries of British or Chinese, colonial or indigenous.
Original languageEnglish
Article number218
Number of pages6
JournalPalgrave Communications
Publication statusPublished - 8 Oct 2019

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