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A Forgotten Memory of Hong Kong: Yao Ke and Modern Drama

展覽 Exhibition





Professor Yao Ke (1905-1991) was an important playwright in Modern Chinese Drama history. He devoted himself to incorporating elements for the traditional Chinese stage into modern drama and film. His history play Sorrows of the Forbidden City (清宫秘史), which premiered in Shanghai in 1941, ran for more than a hundred performance. In 1948 he moved to Hong Kong and resumed his interests in writing historical dramas, among which Xi Shi (西施) and Qin Shi Huang (秦始皇) are still remembered today. Professor Yao later ventured to write on modern themes; for example, his play Abyss (陋巷) depicted urban slums and drug addiction in Kowloon City. By constantly organizing activities with other playwrights like Hsiung Shih-I (1902-1991) for the Chinese Drama Group of the Sino-British Club of Hong Kong, Mr. Yao attracted a lot of young talented people into the theatre.

From 1961 to 1967, Yao Ke further extended his influence to the academy by joining the Department of Chinese at the United College as a lecturer. Apart from focusing on teaching and research in classical Chinese drama, he introduced for the first time the courses in modern Chinese literature into the curriculum when serving as the Head of the Department and the Dean of the Faculty of Arts. This revolutionary practice revealed his identity as a modern Chinese writer.

Today Yao Ke is remembered as an important Shanghai writer because of his friendship with such renowned figures as Lu Xun and his achievement as a major playwright. However, Professor Yao’s Hong Kong period remained largely invisible to the public eye. To pay homage to this master, we have organized this exhibition. By collecting and presenting Yao Ke’s traces in old books, journals, posters and manuscripts, we would like to revive a forgotten and yet alluring memory of Hong Kong, as well as recognizing his tremendous contributions to the city and the university.