AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 164

[ China and Inner Asia Sessions, Table of Contents | Panels by World Area Main Menu ]

Session 164: Gendering Social Change in Hong Kong: Cross-Media Perspectives

Organizer: Jennifer T Johnson-Cooper, Austin College, USA

Chair: Shu-mei Shih, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Discussant: Shuang Shen, Pennsylvania State University, USA

Over the course of the modern era, Hong Kong has been appropriated in the service of greatly varied social narratives: pinnacle of colonial achievement, territory reeling from the economic effects of the aftermath of colonial governance, neoliberal counterpoint of Chinese authoritarianism. The papers of this panel collectively trace the usages of gender construction in cross-media contexts to engage these varied narratives. Jennifer Feeley looks at changing male and female iconography in Hong Kong musicals of the 1950s and 60s as representative of youth subcultures tentatively asserting cosmopolitan identities rooted in commodity culture. Nim-yan Wong reconstructs Hong Kong’s famous cabaret culture, both as ornate fantasy and gruesome reality, as an embodiment of economic success and tenuous geopolitical positioning as a colonial territory. Jennifer Thackston Johnson reads the anonymous "Kuangcheng, luanma" (Crazy city, mad horse) and Shih Shu-ching’s "Hong Kong Trilogy" as journeying through a Hong Kong whose transitions have wreaked havoc on social expectation, which becomes embodied in gender roles. Mirana Szeto examines how cultural myths of Hong Kong masculinity as a response to colonization become rooted in economic prowess, and how the 1997 Asian economic crisis and return of Hong Kong to Chinese sovereignty profoundly shake these representations of masculinity, as well as Hong Kong’s sense of its global positioning. Through its multi-media approach, this panel examines the construction of gender as a microcosm of the complex sociopolitical changes occurring in the Hong Kong context from post-World War II, to the 1997 handover, to the contemporary.

Mandarin Pop Meets Tokyo Jazz: Gender and Genre Rebellion in Inoue Umetsugu’s Hong Kong Musicals
Jennifer L. Feeley, University of Iowa, USA

Between 1967 and 1971, Japanese filmmaker Inoue Umetsugu (1923-2010) directed seventeen Hong Kong Mandarin-language pictures for the Shaw Brothers Studio, several of which were adaptations of his own Japanese works. The majority of these films combine elements of the Hollywood musical with other generic conventions; unlike earlier Mandarin musicals that privilege the role of the songstress, in Inoue’s films the focus also broadens to showcase strong male performers who, in some instances, steal the spotlight from their female costars. Taking Inoue’s 1957 “Man Who Causes a Storm” (Arashi o yobu otoko) and its 1967 remake “King Drummer” (Qingchun guwang) as examples, this presentation examines the Hong Kong musical against the broader context of changing gender roles among Japanese and Hong Kong youth subcultures during the 1950s and 60s. I contend that “King Drummer,” which largely follows the storyline of the Japanese original, represents a noteworthy shift in Mandarin musicals, replacing the traditional archetype of the virtuous daughter or tragic femme fatale with the successful businesswoman who controls and even commodifies the macho yet sensitive male musician, who in turn rebels against his conservative mother. Regarding Inoue as an intermediary, my paper suggests that Hong Kong’s cinematic linkages to postwar Japan (particularly Tokyo’s glittering Ginza district), and by extension, U.S. commodity culture, distances both the territory and its musical films from earlier connections to prewar Shanghai, thereby creating the onscreen image of a contemporary international city in which a youthful generation asserts its controversial new cosmopolitan identities.

Dancing will Go on: Cabaret Culture and Urban Politics in Hong Kong Literature
Nimyan Wong, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

When the late Chinese reforming leader Deng Xiaoping was negotiating the arrangements for Hong Kong’s return to the motherland after 150 years of British rule, he reassured the territory’s citizens that under his “One country, two systems” policy, things would remain much as they were: “Horse racing will go on. Dancing will go on.” The pledge shows that dancing served as the powerful symbol of prosperity and the policy at work. Through the analysis of fiction, poems and newspaper columns from the postwar period to the handover of Hong Kong, this paper illustrates how writers turn the setting of cabarets into a space of a nostalgic Shanghai, erotic adventures, gruesome realities, utopian fantasies; and dance hostesses into substrate upon which the writers project their vision of society. From modern ballrooms, dancehalls, cabarets, nightclubs to discotheque, the analysis illuminates heretofore obscured dimensions of the once dominating entertainment venues that played an important role in the development of the most famous and infamous capitalistic Hong Kong and experiences of those represented in within.

Constructing Gender to Construct Hong Kong: Kuangcheng, Luanma and the Hong Kong Trilogy
Jennifer T Johnson-Cooper, Austin College, USA

Hong Kong’s transition from satellite of the political and economic systems of Britain to satellite of the political and economic systems of the PRC left few static social signifiers. This state of suspended chaos is embodied even in the authorship of the 1993 novel "Kuangcheng, luanma" (Crazy city, mad horse), which was published under the pseudonym Xin Yuan. The novel’s main characters make a dizzying journey through colonial power structures, a conflicted relationship with the PRC, and the demands of the island’s culture of materialism. Gender construction in the novel points directly to these constant transformations of meaning in a conflicted social reality: the novel’s two main characters are continuously transformed through cross-dressing and androgynous behavior, and each transformation leads to a repositioning of the character in the novel’s contentious social reality. In Shih Shu-ching’s "Hong Kong Trilogy," heroine Huang Deyun undergoes a radical reconstruction of her femininity as a child slave kidnapped from the mainland and sold to a brothel catering to the fantasies of British colonists. The social value of this femininity changes over the following decades along with the expectations of Hong Kong masculinity and femininity, placing Huang Deyun in radically varying positions of social victimization and economic power. Both narratives show the constant reconstruction of gender roles necessitated by social realities beleaguered by the contradictions of social transition. Gender becomes another signifier that ceases to have a fixed meaning and can thereby be manipulated to engage a particular narrative of Hong Kong.

Shifts in Hong Kong Mainstream Cultural Representations of Masculinity post 2008
Mirana M. Szeto, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Before the Asian economic crisis of 1997, the inferiority complex of the colonized Hong Kong male imagined a reversible power relation and found relief through a blown-up sense of economic superiority. This mainstream myth expressed in terms of capitalism and sexism boasted of out-doing the Western and Chinese colonizers in the capitalist game. Since the return to Chinese sovereignty, repeated financial crises, intensified neoliberalization of governance and the resulting increased monopolization of wealth and power, mainstream Hong Kong cultural myths and values have been shaken to the core. Political and socio-economic reforms also repeatedly failed in the hands of Hong Kong’s default operational logic, and structural injustices remain unresolved. Popular Hong Kong films released in 2010 seem to converge in collective soul searching through shifts in the representations of mainstream masculinity and local identity politics. The gender and cultural sensitivity of the generation coming of age in this millennium are represented as different. Cocky boastfulness gives way to the recognition of internal inadequacies and injustices and the respect for hard-earned wisdom and mastery. This is also reflected in the overturning of film genres representative of the heyday of Hong Kong. "Once a Gangster" is an anti-gangster gangster film. "La Comédie Humaine" is an anti-heoric killer film. "Gallants" is a tribute to unsung kungfu masters past their prime and "Break Up Club" is about a very different kind of mainstream boyfriend. What can these shifts in representations of masculinity tell us about Hong Kong’s new sense of itself in the world?