Constructing Images of Hong Kong

Title: 1108 | Constructing Images of Hong Kong
Area: China and Inner Asia
Stream: Translation
Presentation Type: Panel Presentation
Audrey Heijns, Shenzhen University, China (organizer, presenter, chair)
Marija Todorova, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong (presenter, discussant)
Zoran Poposki, Education University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong (presenter)
Kristof Van den Troost, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong (presenter)


Hong Kong is known as an international and financial hub, it is a city where East and West meet, a city in transition. There are different ways through which Hong Kong is depicted, through writing, through translation, through film, through art and multi-media. In the past, the city has often been represented in cultural products as little more than an exoticized backdrop, a "fragrant harbor, city of sin and death", catering to the tastes of adventure story readers "from the sea and distant ports" (Turnbull, 1990). However, this situation is changing with artists’ understanding of the need to represent Hong Kong in full with all its diversity. Engagement in cultural representation whether locally or abroad is important to understand the image of Hong Kong and the implications it has.

Papers in this panel explore writings, translations, films and art works that have contributed to the image of Hong Kong and shaped local and outsiders’ perceptions of the city. It will connect translation studies with imagology, travel writing and cultural studies. Different approaches, strategies and reception will shed light on the projection or impact of the messages that writers, translators, film directors or artists have on the target audience. Ultimately, the findings will contribute to the discourse of the city in transition as part of the dynamics of Asia and its different crossroads narrated through different media in the past, present and for the future.

Panel Abstracts:
The Image of Hong Kong in Dutch Travel Accounts
In this paper, I propose to explore the image of Hong Kong in the eyes of Dutch travellers by examining their travel accounts of their trip to Hong Kong. The accounts dating from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century offer insight into life in the city (including the people, culture and language), as well as the impact of British implementation of colonialism (including governance, facilities and education). On one hand, travel accounts can be revealing because besides giving an impression of a foreign place they also reflect an awareness of the traveller in relation to others, that leads to the issue of identity. On the other hand, travel accounts often contain ethnographic descriptions that are based on translation, not only linguistic but also ethnographic and cultural translation. Characteristic of the process of translating cultures, as Kate Sturge explains, is that the ethnographer-translators assume “the authority to extract the underlying meanings of what the ‘natives’ say and do,” and decode this for themselves and their readers. This means that it is inevitable that personal interpretations are included in the writing and thus travelogues are not value neutral. Yet, as this study shows these observations and interpretations help depict an historical image of Hong Kong and improve our understanding of how the writers anticipate the reception of their prospective target readers.

Beyond the Fragrant Harbor: Hong Kong in Contemporary Picturebooks
Anglophone fiction written in and about Hong Kong has mainly been considered ‘invisible’, and when visible it has mainly been categorized under the style of popular entertainment. According to Turnbull (1990), the city of Hong Kong as it is represented in such fiction is little more than an exoticized backdrop, a “fragrant harbor, city of sin and death” catering to the readers of adventure stories “from the sea and distant ports” (Turnbull 1990, 117-118). Furthermore, there is an even lesser amount of research done to identify the image of Hong Kong as presented in Anglophone literature for children and young adults, leaving a lacuna which this paper attempts to fill.Engaging with narrative theory and utilizing methods developed in the field of imagology (Leerseen 2007), this paper analyzes special representations of Hong Kong’s culture and everyday life in children’s books written and published in English language in Hong Kong after the handover of 1997. By doing so, it aims to identify images about Hong Kong as a space in books for young readers.This study looks at both the text and the paratext of a selected number of children’s books in view of the image that they want to establish when presenting the spaces in Hong Kong. It also expands on O’Sullivan’s (2011) new aspect brought to imagology from children’s literature, namely the aspect of the visual. The paper, thus, focuses on picture books because of the way they combine both verbal and visual signs, imagined and visualized images.

Intersemiotic Translation of Hong Kong
This paper proposes a model of intersemiotic translation through a case study of a contemporary art project of transcoding Dung Kai-cheung’s novel Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City, a book of postmodern fiction about the palimpsest nature of Hong Kong, the city as a place of translation between English and Chinese, the West and the East. In Poposki’s art project, the locations in Dung’s book are performatively mapped out onto the real terrain of today’s Hong Kong by means of a psychogeography documented in digital photographs, which are then through a series of translations transcoded into visual form as a multimedia arts project. Hong Kong Atlas is a work about positionality, a sense of place, about cultural translation and transcoding, and about mediating between different cultural flows. Relying on practices of mapping and performative encounters with the cityscape that account for translation zones and flows, the project’s own remapping of Hong Kong with its successive overlays of meaning, attempts to merge both the real body of the city as well as its numerous locations of memory and virtuality. More broadly, Hong Kong Atlas explores the emerging network of new pathways of translation between multiple formats of expression and communication that is the underlying operating mechanism of altermodernity emerging as a centerless chronotope of global negotiation and interchange between agents from different cultures.

Reflected in the Rear Window: Hitchcock and Hong Kong
The rise of a “Hong Kong identity” is usually traced back to the late 1960s and 1970s, when the locally-raised baby-boomer generation came of age. The image of Hong Kong as presented in Chinese-language cinema today is still largely shaped by this generation, thanks to the global success of their films in the 1980s and 1990s. This paper will take up the challenge of reconstructing earlier images and imaginations of Hong Kong, by looking at 1950s and 1960s Cantonese and Mandarin films. It will do so, perhaps somewhat counterintuitively, by examining the local adaptation and remaking of Alfred Hitchcock’s popular crime thrillers. This paper argues that the numerous local remakes and adaptations of Hitchcock’s films offer a useful case study to help us understand what it meant to localize (or “Hongkongify”) a film in the 1950s and 1960s. By tracing certain patterns in these local Hitchcock remakes, we can get a better sense of the Hong Kong cinematic landscape in which these films were absorbed. This, in turn, can reveal some of the distinctive characteristics of Hong Kong cinema and the images it produced during the 1950s and 1960s. Collectively, these films contributed to the construction of an image of Hong Kong that is not only similar but also markedly different from the one that evolved from the 1960s onwards. The paper will explore some of the reasons underlying this transformation, while warning against a facile correspondence between these films and the society that produced them

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