The Hong Kong Literature Museum opens

Front Entrance
Reading corner
Scroll written by Eileen Chang
Images of Hong Kong writer Eileen Chang
Literature and music display
Letters by Xiao Hong
Seek Richness of Literature amidst Flowers
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Douglas Hofstadter

Only in Chinese, says scientist and philosopher Douglas Hofstadter, is the written word so revered that great monuments in stone are built to memorialise a single character. At the same time, only in Hong Kong do we find the widespread integration of Chinese with other international cultures. It is, therefore, not surprising that the new Museum of Hong Kong Literature is housed in a historic building with its own venerable story: a monument to all that the written word can be.

Hong Kong Jockey Club

The new museum, opened by Chief Executive John Lee in May 2024, celebrates the unique historical and cultural background that has given birth to Hong Kong’s literary heritage. The museum forms the heart of the new 7 Mallory Street complex. The Urban Renewal Authority has beautifully refurbished this location under the designation M7. Formerly known as the Green House, M7 comprises a cluster of ten pre-war Grade II historic buildings constructed in the 1910s. Below, visitors can enjoy a meal, relax in the reading nook, or explore a wide range of high-end Chinese tea offerings. Above, they can enjoy a small but intriguing permanent exhibition that showcases how Hong Kong’s literary scene has influenced, and been influenced by, every aspect of society.

Liu Yichang

While Hong Kong literature is predominantly written in Chinese, its origin and impact go far beyond the Chinese language. “Winds from every point of the compass pass through Hong Kong,” says the President of the Hong Kong Writers Association and Director of the Museum of Hong Kong Literature, Poon Yiu Ming. “Hong Kong literature has absorbed Western literary trends and has also inherited traditional Chinese culture and traditional literary expression techniques. For example, Hong Kong writer Liu Yichang introduced the [Western] stream-of-consciousness technique in his famous novel The Drunkard, while Hong Kong also has a large number of writers from Southern China who have inherited traditional Chinese realism techniques.”

The Museum of Hong Kong Literature

For this reason, the first room in the new museum opens with the question, “Is Hong Kong literature written only in Chinese?” and provides examples of prominent literary works in English by Hong Kong writers as well as showcasing works in Chinese. Poon explains, “Our current permanent exhibition… is bilingual, in Chinese and English. We hope to use this platform to showcase Hong Kong literature to more English readers.”

Wuxia

“Literature can be seen everywhere in our lives,” says Poon. “Many well-known movies are adapted from literary works. In addition, there are connections between literature and music, literature and new media, and literature and painting.” Wuxia novelist Jin Yong, one of the best-known literary figures in Hong Kong, has more than 200 million readers around the world and many of his works have been made into movies and TV shows. Liu Yichang, considered the founder of Hong Kong modern literature, has had many works adapted into stage plays.

Hong Kong literature

The museum and the M7 complex are designed to provide an active experience for visitors. The bookstore and reading room promote Hong Kong literature by encouraging reading. Poon says, “We hope that everyone can gradually understand Hong Kong literary works and fall in love with reading Hong Kong literature. So, we provide a space for them. This is a quiet place in the busy city, where everyone can calm down and slowly appreciate Hong Kong literature.”

Writers Group

Hong Kong continues to offer a thriving literary scene for writers and readers. Along with the Hong Kong Writers Association, the founding organisation of the Museum of Hong Kong Literature, literary groups in the SAR include book clubs, literary societies and writers’ groups. Many are open to both professionals and aspiring writers.

Literary Magazine

Every month, the Hong Kong Writers Circle meets at Varga Lounge to share their latest work in English, Chinese and other languages; the organisation also publishes a quarterly literary magazine, The Apostrophe, and a themed annual anthology of short stories and poetry. Poets gather to perform at Peel Street Poetry every week and collect new work in The Tentacle. The Hong Kong Review publishes works from Hong Kong and Tianjin.

Annual Anthology

The Women in Publishing Society and Write or Die Hong Kong provide support and community to local and international writers in Hong Kong. The WiPS annual anthology, Imprint, is now in its twenty-second year.

Participants in this vibrant community take literature seriously. Hong Kong Writers Circle chairman Wilson Li says, “Literature is the nourishment of our soul. Without nourishment, our souls will eventually die.” Many writing and reading activities are also available via Hong Kong’s extensive public library network.

No matter the format or the mode of consumption, literature can be the cultural, spiritual pillar and soul of a country and a city. Poon is optimistic about the role literature can play. “Literature,” he says, “transcends politics, region and space.” At the Museum of Hong Kong Literature, visitors now have a place to explore how literature can also integrate the heritage of the past with the possibilities that the future has to offer.

Text Jan Lee / Photos by Jan Lee & Dave Chung