Students and Alumni

Discovering Song Culture

The sight, sound and scents at the “Song’s Culture: Discovery, Innovation and Re-representation” exhibition vividly evoked the dynasty’s vibrant scenes captured a millennium ago in the iconic painting “Along the River during the Qingming Festival”.

The two-week cultural festival – a final-year project of 40- plus students majoring in Culture and Heritage Management – celebrated aspects of Song Dynasty’s heritage that have had far-reaching impact on humanities in China as well as abroad. It featured meticulously researched, interactive exhibitions of movable types, tea and incense, live music performances and drama, period costume parade, workshops and public lecture series. Bustling Bianjing (present-day Kaifeng) was brought to life in 4/F Blue Zone, Yeung Kin Man Academic Building, abuzz with activities as students were busy with demonstrations and answering questions from visitors. Many passers-by were attracted by students donning period costumes crisscrossing the exhibition. Under the sunlight streaming through the glass roof were participants trying their hands at such workshops as the rubber stamp engraving and sneaker painting.

Under the guidance from Dr Marianne WONG, Senior Tutor and King-chung WONG, Instructor, of the Department of Chinese and History, the students organised the festival from scratch by combining the projects for courses “Advanced Management for Cultural Professionals” and “Event Management”. “King-chung and I provided the overall direction and the students were responsible for all aspects of the operations, from the initial research, identifying sub topics, promotion to liaising with sponsors. They needed to apply all theories learned in the classroom over the past four years,” Dr Wong said.

Song Dynasty was selected to be the theme because it represented a new era with remarkable developments in various aspects. “It was a Song reinvention that Confucianism – the cornerstone of traditional Chinese culture as well as a complete ideological system created by Confucius – served as the government orthodoxy throughout late-imperial times. It was an era characterised by highly advanced technology in various fields, such as printing, agriculture, iron working, as well as one for creating new-form literature, art and music. During the Northern Song Dynasty, the economy was greatly improved when there was a growth in trading. The population grew rapidly during this time, and more and more people lived in cities,” Dr Wong said, adding that the pioneering spirit of Song Dynasty provided a possibility for the students to discover, innovate and re-present China’s traditional culture as part of the Discovery-Enriched Curriculum.

The festival emphasised a balance between academic requirements and an appeal to the general public, she added. “We want the students to experience and tackle challenges in the process. Apart from several workshops on basic skills, the students were left to their own devices. For instance, the stage backdrop features part of a well-known Chinese painting which belongs to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The students had to approach the museum for copyright clearance.”

Because the festival was held on a shoestring budget, the students needed to be resourceful. Social media was harnessed for promotion and the result was impressive. The four seminars attracted over 200 attendees. “Many members of the public learned about the festival via our Facebook page and word of mouth. The period costume session was also broadcast via Facebook,” said Mr Wong, adding that the visitors included secondary student groups and members of the public of all ages.

Toby CHEUNG, who focused on marketing, recalled how the students successfully enlisted the help of sponsors. They attended the workshop of Kwong Wah Printing Co, which loaned its movable types for display, and asked for support. “It took persistence. Many sponsors offered assistance in kind, like printing the giant stage backdrop and letting us use their studio for free,” Cheung added.

The distinctive sound of shaking bamboo sticks and coins in brass tortoise shell attracted visitors to the booth of “Divination and Fortune Telling”, a part of the discovery journey. Fortune telling was venerated by the literati and masses alike in the Song dynasty. Apart from discovery, the festival let participants innovate and re-present, i.e. to give a contemporary take on elements of cultural heritage. At the workshop of sneaker painting, Bruce PLACATHOSE concentrated on putting the finishing touch on his creations. “My design was inspired by the patterns on the period costumes,” said Placathose, who hails from Mauritius and studies engineering at CityU. “Mauritius is a cultural melting pot with a Chinese community … this exhibition aroused my interest in learning more about the Song Dynasty and its influence.”

Visitors to the booth “A Dream of Splendor in the Eastern Capital” were encouraged to express their creativity. Written by a Northern Song’s refugee who reminisced the past thriving urban life in the eastern capital, the book would provided an interesting account of the lifestyle of the masses. Since the lifestyle of the common people was largely influenced by the emperor’s governance, the way they lived reflected the political, economic, social, and cultural landscape then. The topic was considered suitable for re-discovery and representation through today’s perspective. Amid globalisation, the literature classic could also be used as a base for reinterpretation both locally and abroad. After reading passages depicting the bustling street scenes extracted from the book, visitors were given pens and papers to recreate them by using their imagination. This drawing zone has been hugely popular. Many participants took time with their creations. Over 600 artworks were collected and some would be selected for an album.

The festival let the participating students put to practice theories on how to create interesting experience for the visitors. “The experience in organising an event boosted my confidence. I plan to apply for positions in culture promotion organisations,” CAH student FUNG Yung noted.