Spirit of Hong Kong Award winner examines the impact of Covid-19 on local arts and culture

Emilee Geist

© SCMP Spirit of Hong Kong 2019 award winner and Professor Stephen Chu is examining the impact of coronavirus on local arts and culture. Photo: Nora Tam Decades from now, when researchers and enthusiasts study the pop music of the 2020s, they are likely to take note of the sense […]



a person sitting in front of a book shelf: Spirit of Hong Kong 2019 award winner and Professor Stephen Chu is examining the impact of coronavirus on local arts and culture. Photo: Nora Tam


© SCMP
Spirit of Hong Kong 2019 award winner and Professor Stephen Chu is examining the impact of coronavirus on local arts and culture. Photo: Nora Tam

Decades from now, when researchers and enthusiasts study the pop music of the 2020s, they are likely to take note of the sense of anxiety and helplessness running through many of the tracks created in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Professor Stephen Chu Yiu-wai, director of the Hong Kong studies programme at the University of Hong Kong, said the pandemic, while throttling cultural and economic activity and leaving many industries reeling, had indeed provided some grim inspiration for songwriters in the city.

He cited Journey, a song performed by Ken Hung Cheuk-lap, noting that its lyrics lamented the lost pleasure of travelling around the world.

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In Shi Xiang Jian, literally “see you online”, Oscar Tao, another Canto-pop singer, unpacks subtle feelings about social distancing.

Chu, who has spent decades learning the words of the city’s popular music, said he believed there would be more creations on the theme of the coronavirus crisis in the future.

“Writing a song (on this subject) is easier, as it can be done at a lower cost,” Chu said, adding that other types of coronavirus-inspired artwork, such as films, might hit the streets later.

“Great literary works are often created in troubled times,” the academic added.

An avid researcher, Chu’s decades-long preservation of Canto-pop lyrics earned him the Spirit of Culture Award, one of the accolades given out by Spirit of Hong Kong Awards, in 2019.



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The annual campaign, now in its eighth year, is co-organised by the South China Morning Post and property developer Sino Group to honour remarkable people whose work may go unnoticed.

This year’s awards celebrate 19 individuals and groups for inspirational efforts that make us proud to call ourselves Hongkongers.

From now until the end of September, readers can choose among these finalists and vote online for the person or team they believe most deserves the Lion Rock People’s Choice Award – the sole category that invites the public to decide the winner.

A separate judging panel will select winners in six other categories: community, perseverance, culture, innovation, youth and teamwork. Results will be announced in November.

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Chu said he believed some direct experiences with the coronavirus fear, such as the sight of deserted streets and the hardships caused by social distancing, had left an indelible imprint on people’s minds. But while the memories were shared by many, they had been “less collective” than those of previous public health crises, he added.

Compared with the solidarity with medical workers displayed during the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2003, he said, some Hongkongers were now questioning the integrity of these local professionals, especially those who went on strike to pressure the government to impose a full border shutdown with mainland China earlier this year.

“The political atmosphere has changed,” Chu said.

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