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Pai Hsien-yung: From Literature to Kunqu

Prof. Pai Hsien-yung organized four talks on campus, between 14 and 19 March, in which he brought the audience into a glamourous world which merges Chinese Literature with various art presentations, including drama, movie and Kunqu. At the age of 78, Prof. Pai seems to have endless energy when talking about his life-long pursuit to an audience.

Pai and literature

As the Wei Lun Professor of Humanities of CUHK, Prof. Pai is a world renowned writer. Writing with compassion and pity, Prof. Pai once said “I write to transform the unspeakable pain of the human soul into words”. His novels have been frequently adapted for TV dramas, movies and theatres. In Prof. Pai’s first talk, the audience was invited to watch a video of the theatre performance Crystal Boys, which was adapted from his novel of the same name, before listening to his explanation of how he transferred the characters from his book to the stage.

Pai and Kunqu

After watching a classic Kunqu performance at the age of 10, Kunqu was lodged in little Pai's heart. When he retired, Prof. Pai, who describes himself as “a volunteer for Kunqu”, started his mission to rejuvenate this 600-year old Chinese classic of the performing arts. He successfully produced a Youthful Rendition of the ‘Peony Pavilion’, a Kunqu performance which was welcomed by audiences around the world and drew the attention of the younger generation. In addition, he opened courses in Kunqu for universities in Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. In CUHK, Prof. Pai not only opened a course under the Faculty of Arts to introduce the beauty of Kunqu , he also took up the role as the Honorary Director for the Kunqu Research and Promotion Project. In the last two of his talks, Prof. Pai invited professional performers from the Suzhou Kunqu Opera Theatre of Jiangsu Province to stage demonstration performances to give the audience a lively and impressive introduction to Kunqu classics.

The I•CARE Book Festival, which was hosted throughout March, also organized a screening of the film Hsien-Yung Pai to tell the life story of Prof. Pai, who was invited to join the after-screening discussion. The film, which took three years of production and over 1,000 hours of filming, recorded Prof. Pai’s passion for Chinese Literature and Kunqu. It helped the audience to understand his determined and profound love for the beauty of Chinese classical culture.

Let’s follow the camera which captured the precious moments of Prof. Pai’s talks on campus.

Reading a Book Unrelated to Your Subject

What is your favorite book? Is it related to what you are studying? In one of the book sharing sessions organized by I•CARE Book Festival, which was titled “Reading a Book Unrelated to Your Subject”, Prof. Lee Ou-fan and Prof. Chow Po-chung were invited to read each other’s book and share their experience from reading.

Prof. Lee Ou-fan, Sin Wai Kin Professor of Chinese Culture at CUHK, talked about his review of a book on politics by Prof. Chow and shared his book-reading experience from when he was a university student. Prof. Lee strongly encouraged the audience to read widely, which he believes is helpful in cultivating our minds and understanding ourselves better. As a professor from the Department of Government and Public Administration, Prof. Chow said reading Prof. Lee’s book reminded him of an unforgettable experience in reading the fiction by Louis Cha (Jin Yong), one of the bestselling Chinese-language novelists. Though a professor of politics, Prof. Chow’s favorite books are the novels by Louis Cha and Chiung Yao, which introduced to him the beauty of Chinese culture and poetry of the Song Dynasty through their absorbing stories. He also encouraged the audience to reread classics for new understanding as one becomes older and more sophisticated.

The video of this sharing is now available online for public view.

Experience South & Southeast Asian Culture on Campus

Having a taste of the Malaysian bak kut teh, experiencing Indian henna painting, watching a Nepalese traditional dance performance, making a beautiful Thai krathong…all these interesting and exotic experiences were made available to members of the university community in the one-week “South and Southeast Asian Cultural Festival”. The events gathered CUHK students from South and Southeast Asian countries to introduce the unique culture of their countries.

The opening ceremony of the Festival on 16 March was officiated at by Prof. Fok Tai-fai, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of CUHK as well as the consuls of Malaysia and India. Students wearing colorful folk costume won rounds of applause with their lively dance and music performances at the ceremony. A South and Southeast Asian Market was set up at the Cultural Square on the first two days of the Festival by students and representatives from Thailand, Nepal, India, Indonesia, Brunei, Singapore and Malaysia. Visitors had the chance to taste and experience the traditional snacks and the culture of each country. Following the market came a series of student-led activities, including workshops on making tofu and krathongs, the Thai floating lantern, playing the Angklung, the traditional Indonesian musical instrument, and experiencing Indian folk dance, as well as a number of cultural sharing sessions.

Organized by the Office of Student Affairs, the Cultural Festival is held every semester each with a theme of a different regional culture. It offers a platform for students of different nationalities to introduce their cultures to others and enhances inter-cultural interaction on campus.

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