Hannah Treasure: Bilingual education, poetry, and free speech

sidewalk and garden in the University of Hong Kong

For July, I moved away from mainland and spent most of my time in Hong Kong to observe differences between mainland’s creative writing classes and Hong Kong’s. The first thing I noticed was the level of engagement with the community was much higher. Every Wednesday night, there would be an open mic in Central, Hong Kong, at Poetry Outloud on the first Wednesday of the month, then Peel Street Poetry the remaining Wednesdays of the month. All events had an infectious warmth to them, welcoming newcomers of all ages and all experience level. I went for four weeks in a row, recognizing same faces returning each week along with some new. Despite the lack of intimidation, the quality of work read was very high, and included readers of several different languages such as Cantonese, English, Spanish, Mandairn, French, and Arabic. Both locals and expats returned every Wednesday, and often read about political topics, including several poems with LGBTQ themes and even police brutality in the United States.

In the classrooms, I continued to be fixated on the use of English paired with creative writing. At Hong Kong University, where the official language of instruction is English, the department head Dr. Page Richards suggested that using the post-colonial language became a tool for students to write English stories without the Western, Christian, literary traditions we grew up learning in the West. Narrative in this setting has no assumption as to what “succeeds,” so students may experiment (whether consciously or unconsciously) in rewriting the traditional story arc of an English-written story. Anyone using English controls its future.

Additionally I spoke with the director of the creative writing programs at Hong Kong Baptist University, Professor Kwai Cheung Lo about his creation of the first completely bilingual creative writing program in Hong Kong. The program helps to develop students for continuation of this career track, by offering professional writing courses in addition to creative ones, as well as setting students up with publishing house or editorial internships. The program is also the first to be government-funded. Writing here definitely encapsulated some political themes — even the first issue of the department’s student-run publication was themed “Hong Kong’s self-determination.”

At the top of "Lion's Rock." Living under Lion's Rock has been equated metaphorically with the Hong Kong people's relationship to mainland.
At the top of “Lion’s Rock.” Living under Lion’s Rock has been equated metaphorically with the Hong Kong people’s relationship to mainland.
Venue for the open mic event, Poetry Outloud, which happens every first Wednesday of the month
Venue for the open mic event, Poetry Outloud, which happens every first Wednesday of the month
Green spaces at Hong Kong University's new campus
Green spaces at Hong Kong University’s new campus

One thought on “Hannah Treasure: Bilingual education, poetry, and free speech

  1. It is very interesting that not only are you looking not only at creative writing in a different country and culture, but also the differences between mainland China and Hong Kong. I was wondering what differences you might see between creative writing in the educational systems, and creative writing outside of the institutions. You noted both creative writing classes, and ‘open-mic’ poetry readings. Do you think that the extracurricular examples of creative writing that you have seen are stemming from the classroom, or that perhaps the interest outside of the classroom has created the demand for creative writing to be more available in the class room?

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