“All the world’s a stage”, said Shakespeare, “ and all the men and women merely players.” His near-contemporary, Chinese dramatist Li Yu goes one step further and says that even in love, or perhaps especially in love, we can only play out our roles.
Surrealism is something of an outlier in mainstream English fiction, yet it seems to crop up with some frequency in contemporary Chinese-language literature, at least in those works that find themselves in English-translation. This penchant for surrealism can seem even more pronounced, or perhaps concentrated, in the wider Chinese world and diaspora: Dorothy Tse, Hon Lai-Chu and Dung Kai-Cheung in Hong Kong and Malaysia’s Ng Kim Chew being among the practitioners. The surrealism central to this newly-translated collection by Ho Sok Fong fits right in.
Hong Kong can be a curious place. Ghost Love is a new Putonghua-language chamber opera, conceived and written locally, receiving what is—insofar as I can tell—its world premier this weekend, and yet, despite a number of attractive posters placed around town, there is hardly any mention of this in the press or online.
In mid-19th century China, after suffering multiple humbling defeats by imperial powers, a movement to modernize China’s military developed. The idea was that the national essence or culture of China could be better defended with superior Western methods and technology than outdated Chinese methods—seen as the extension of a static political culture. That the methods and technology were Western did not matter—they were not tied to the imperial aims which produced them; they could be adapted by anyone, and were essentially culture-less.