Generation 40s – 四十世代

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The rise and fall of Canto-pop and, with it, Hong Kong’s cultural identity

CommentInsight & Opinion

Vivienne Chow says the Ultimate Song Chart Awards reminded her of how Canto-pop once brought a thriving Hong Kong together. But, with its glory days long gone, she wonders if the uniquely Hong Kong genre can once again find that power to unite


On the first day of 2018, Hongkongers were delightfully surprised by Nicholas Tse Ting-fung’s appearance at the 30th annual Commercial ­Radio music awards show. Dressed in a black top and armed with an electric guitar, Tse joined local bands Supper Moment and Chochukmo on stage as a guest performer, driving the crowd wild, singing Jade Butterfly and Living Viva, two of his most memorable hits from the early 2000s, and a brand new Canto-pop song, (I) Have Fire. The last time he ­released a Cantonese full length album was in 2005.

It’s been a long time since any of the year-end music awards shows was the talk of the town. Not only were those watching Commercial Radio’s Ultimate Song Chart Awards presentation at the Convention and Exhibition Centre enjoying themselves, many who had long given up watching such awards shows found themselves tuning into the mini showcase online. The video clip appearing across various media platforms, including the official account of Commercial Radio and popular entertainment gossip page King Jer Entertainment Channel, has ­already garnered nearly a million views.

Adding to the Canto-pop memories of the night was Eason Chan Yik-shun’s performance of his old favourites and Hacken Lee Hak-han, a veteran of 30 years, bagging the gold male singer award for the first time. It was a nostalgic kick-start to the new year.

The return of Tse to the Canto-pop stage was ­unexpected, largely because, like many established Hong Kong stars, he shifted his focus to mainland China many years ago. Long gone was his Canto-pop bad boy image, as Tse reinvented himself as a successful entrepreneur and the most talked about TV chef. The glory days of Canto-pop seem to be the past life of not only Tse, but of Hong Kong as well.

Canto-pop is an integral part of Hong Kong’s cultural identity. It all started in the mid-1970s when Sam Hui Koon-kit began singing pop in Cantonese. It was a time when most people were still playing pop music in English. Hui’s songs were like a fresh breeze that stirred the souls of many Hongkongers whose mother tongue was Cantonese. This coincided with Hong Kong’s growing economic prosperity and rising public demand for leisure and entertainment.

The intense rivalry among TVB, Rediffusion Television (which became ATV in the 80s) and the short-lived Commercial Television set the stage for the Canto-pop boom. Not only did they produce a number of hit TV series that captured the hearts of an audience seeking emotional refuge after a long day at work, the Cantonese theme songs of these TV series gained wild popularity, particularly title songs from wuxia martial arts epics, such as those adapted from Louis Cha Leung-yung’s novels.

Along with the kung fu cinema made popular by Bruce Lee in the early 70s, it was the beginning of the golden era of Hong Kong, which produced a unique brand of pop culture that was not borrowed from the West – an array of songs, TV shows and movies that made Hongkongers proud.

Records of theme songs for TV Series adapted from the novels of Jin Yong (the pen name of Louis Cha), are displayed at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum in Sha Tin, last March. Photo: K.Y. Cheng

The rise of Canto-pop led to the launch of annual music awards shows in the 80s. TVB, Commercial Radio and public broadcaster RTHK each produced its own year-end shows, joined later by Metro Radio. These shows have played a vital role in promoting not only the music industry but also the melodies and sentiments that Hong Kong people identify with.

Canto-pop brought Hongkongers together. During the heyday of the local music industry in the 1980s and 90s, watching live broadcasts of the year-end awards shows was a must. Those were the only occasions when not just fans but also general TV viewers had the chance to experience the live performances of the biggest and brightest stars, from the comfort of their homes.

The awards could easily cause heated debates among friends and family: arguments over whether Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing would be able to beat Alan Tam Wing-lun in the best male singer category could trigger a war of words among siblings at the dinner table in the 80s. And in the 90s, arguments over who was the best of the “Four Heavenly Kings” – Jacky Cheung How-yau, Andy Lau Tak-wah, Leon Lai Ming and Aaron Kwok Fu-shing – could easily end a friendship. But no matter who was most popular at the time, people could sing along to most of the hits.

As the top stars retired from these music awards shows, a younger generation of Canto-pop stars, like Eason Chan Yik-shun, Miriam Yeung Chin-wah, Nicholas Tse and Joey Yung Cho-yee in the 2000s, was given the ­opportunity to shine. The dramatic rivalries were gone but the music awards shows still managed to capture many people’s attention.

Fans of late Canto-pop diva Anita Mui Yim-fong attend her memorial concert, at the Convention and Exhibition Centre in December 2013. Photo: Felix Wong

But all of that is now history: Canto-pop is struggling. In 2008, the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (Hong Kong Group), the ­industry association, slashed requirements for ­album sales awards, from the original benchmark of 25,000 for gold and 50,000 for platinum – down to 15,000 for gold and 30,000 for platinum.

Top-selling Canto-pop singers and albums of the past 20 years.

Source: Hong Kong Top Sales Music Award/SCMP

There is also a serious lack of new Canto-pop ­forces with the power to bring people together. While many of the established stars have either retired or shifted their focus to mainland China, appearing in reality shows such as I Am A Singer, the decline of ­traditional media and the rise of digital media, particularly the algorithm-based social media, has fragmented the audience base.

Even political groups have trouble finding new songs that can unite people at protests

The gap between reality and what is perceived as reality has never been so wide. Some traditional Chinese entertainment media expressed bewilderment at the result of the “favourite song of the year” category at the Ultimate Song Chart Awards, which went to local band ToNick’s Cheung Seung See Sau (“Stay Together Forever”), a song they claimed many had never heard of. But, in reality, the music video has had nearly 7.7 million views on YouTube, more than most other songs from 2017.

The truth is that Hong Kong is still living in the past. Even political groups have trouble finding new songs that can unite people at protests: the song that was sung probably the most at protests over the past five years was Beyond’s Boundless Oceans, Vast Skies, and that was released in 1993.

Over two decades on from the handover, the rise and fall of Canto-pop mirrors Hong Kong’s struggles with its cultural identity. And as long as Hong Kong is still caught up in its internal battles, the chance of getting people to sing along together to new Canto-pop tunes seems to be slim.

Vivienne Chow is a journalist, cultural critic and founder of Cultural Journalism Campus


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《南華早報》配合中國近年的崛起,其使命是「引領全球關於中國的對話」。它正努力改革,首先是在體制文化上把編輯部全面數字(數碼)化。其次是在結構上將製作傳統報紙的人手縮減至編輯部全體員工的一成,而且將紙媒的重點放在提供獨家原創新聞和深度報道。第三是在技術上成立了數據分析部門,幫助了解讀者流量和熱門話題、優化工作決策,及尋找更有效的文章標題,以提升搜索引擎中的排名。最後是在內容上着重多媒體及互動性,從文字和圖片邁向社交媒體、facebook live、虛擬現實等內容。



個案之二是台灣的《聯合報》。其「內容長」(chief content officer)柔美月表示,該報的方向是強化數位戰力及擴大品牌價值。他們在2008年提出「雙引擎策略」,包括「數位回流」和「多元營收」,希望用多元事業經營來支持媒體的永續發展。「數位回流」是指不同部門互相協作,其中包括影音、行動服務、數據發展、詮釋數位及新媒體中心。而「多元營收」的單位包括聯合數位文創、健康、教育、娛樂生活、「udn買東西」。









全面數碼 跨越報業





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A crusading US media in the age of Trump is a recipe for disaster

CommentInsight & Opinion
Tom Plate says with even quality US media turning private eye on Donald Trump, the incessant drumbeat on North Korea, and more military men inducted into the White House, the president may well be inspired to try on a new role

Recall Shakespeare’s ­Falstaff, that boastful cowardly knight, and imagine him cavorting at golf resorts on the dime of a dodgy career driven by money borrowed from wherever.

Yes, imagine President Donald J Trump as a Falstaff rather than as, say, an unhinged King Lear. As ­Falstaff, his conceited self-absorption blocks awareness that the world’s laughing at him. Let’s face facts: firing the White House chief of staff amid rumours that the US ­secretary of state might be next out the door makes it more difficult by the day for his presidency to be taken seriously, especially by the US news media that takes it all in and immediately spits it all back out.

By imprisoning himself in twitchy tweets, comedic illogic and loopy facts – and then crying foul when the media transforms nearly every tweet into an overdrawn newspaper headline or an overheated TV panel beating anew some politically dead horse – Trump winds up generating laughs but not hits. And in making his case that the news media is the “enemy of the people”, he tends to show less attention to detail than the average high school debate team.

Even so, Trump is not the only one worrying about the US media in the age of Trump. Many fear the media has become its own worst enemy, as much at risk from its own excesses as Falstaff himself.

The job of the US news media is to speak truth to power, but not in a relentless or careless way. A seriously helpful media in an open society must maintain its cool and balance – and thus its constitutional utility. But has it? In a recent essay in the London Review of Books, David Bromwich, Yale University’s Sterling professor of English, is ­unnerved by the “descent into brashness, which teeters on the edge of open contempt [and] has been a feature of American media coverage of Trump ever since January; it is growing shriller and more indiscriminate, working up to a ­presumptive climax no one has imagined with clarity”.

Perhaps Bromwich’s argument in “The Age of Detesting Trump” might sound less alarming if even the quality media hadn’t been converting reporters into little more than private investigators labouring for the prosecution in the unseemly annual scrum for Pulitzer Prizes.

In the back of any journalistically ethical mind needs to be a deeply sincere worry that diminishment of the occupant of the office might serve to erode that office itself. Bromwich, in one example, points out that the possibility of improving relations with Russia on its merits has been mass-mediated only against the backdrop of this shady secret meeting or that. As this noted biographer of Edmund Burke ­narrates: “The Democrats tossed his idea that better relations with ­Russia ‘would not be a bad thing’ into the general stew of his repulsive ideas on taxes and immigration, and Republicans ignored it as an ­indigestible ingredient.”

Regime change is always a dream story for the imperial American press, especially since the fall of the Soviet Union, which indeed was a regime manifestly meriting change. But the outcome of more recent regime-change campaigns cheered by the US news media, such as Iraq (the sorriest example) and Libya (runner-up in the ­Department of Miscalculation), might suggest the need for more ­reporting and less crusading.

Consider even the incessant US media drumbeat about North Korea, in the face of whose missile provocations careful caution has been the consistent recommendation of China. But what could a nation so much closer to the North’s missile sites, so much closer to its ­reportedly restless population of 25 million possibly know, compared to journalists on the US east coast?

From the American media you also get the sense that regime change of some sort could prove as miraculously transformative in Washington as well as in Pyongyang. Though no one knows who might succeed a fallen Kim Jong-un, in the US you’d wind up with oleaginous Mike Pence, next-in-line as vice president, or Paul Ryan, the next next-in-line as House Speaker. Is this what our media want?

Pinning down Trump with unremitting fire also handicaps the entire US government executive branch, which is constitutionally best equipped to handle America’s role globally. Moving into the growing void is Germany’s Angela Merkel, filling in reluctantly, and, less reluctantly, China’s Xi Jinping ( 習近平 ). For China, the opportunity to expand its global space is now ­extraordinarily immense, but for starters, Beijing’s wisest heads might wish to have their inner circle appreciate the magnitude of their South China Sea gains and put a hold on more pushing and shoving for the time being.

Note well: the powerful US Pacific Command’s Seventh Fleet won’t fall back to Hawaii without a fight, no matter who is in or out of the White House. If the concept of “soft power” offers tangible utility, it has to mean resorting to “hard power” less. Leading the global charge on climate change will show Beijing acting like an adult and lower the overall political temperature.

By contrast, every time someone unceremoniously exits the Trump administration – seems maybe weekly – the replacement looks to be military (the just-named White House chief of staff is a retired ­marine general.) The world should take note. Falstaff is no Coriolanus but, surrounded by all that “oorah”, Trump might be tempted to try on a new role for size. One thing Trump and our media have in common is a problematic penchant for drama and excess. Beware.

Loyola Marymount University Professor Tom Plate is author of “Confessions of an American Media Man”, on his career at the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and other premier US media institutions

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假新聞當道與我無關 ?




當資訊接收不能改善人類生活,反而帶來反效果時,就出現所謂的「資訊煙霧」(Data Smog),令人無法分辨真假,不同意見的人亦無法達到共識,反而被其他不重要的、不正確的訊息模糊誤導。這情況令假新聞應運而生,對社會帶來的影響不容忽視。



「同溫層」出現的其中一個重要原因,是由於社交媒體的演算法(Algorithm),會根據用者喜好,提供他們感興趣的內容,久而久之,用者能接觸到、有別於其認同的內容會愈來愈少,相反只看到自己喜歡或同意的內容。這種做法,用者可能得到更針對性、更符合其需要的內容,然而用者只會聽到一種聲音,造成迴響效應(Echo Chamber Effect),不論真假都照單全收。

加州大學戴維斯分校政治系教授Robert Huckfeldt教授曾於其著作Political Disagreement中指出,新出現的資訊能夠影響一個人改變原有立場的機率,與其身處的社會網絡裏意見分布息息相關。套用在社交媒體的例子,在「同溫層」裏的人,被新資訊說服而改變態度的機會,會較其他身處意見不一群體的人為低。






史丹福大學去年一項針對年輕人如何分辨網上資訊的調查發現,82%的中學生無法分辨網站上的贊助內容與真實新聞,而很多學生亦只依據推特(Twitter)內容是否詳細、是否有照片等來判斷內容真偽,而非資料的來源。可見「數位原生代」(Digital Natives)——即一直活在互聯網世代、以網絡世界作為資訊來源和日常生活的主要平台的一代——在接收和判斷網上資訊的能力問題,實需要正視。

今年年初,經濟合作及發展組織(OECD)宣布,將在學生能力國際評估計劃(The Programme for International Student Assessment,PISA)中,增加「全球競爭力」(Global Competence),測試學生批判思維及辨識失實資料的能力,對社交媒體的資訊分析亦包括在內。

OECD的教育及技能主管Andreas Schleicher更進一步表示對社交媒體引致相同意見的人互相「圍爐取暖」的憂慮,希望提升學生分辨網上資訊可信程度的能力,以及開放接收不同立場的內容的態度。

另外,業內一眾科技企業有見假新聞的影響,已開始着手解決問題,如由Facebook及一些學術單位和非牟利組織發起的「新聞誠信倡議」(The News Integrity Initiative)計劃是其中一例。最近不少網上媒體或智庫等亦推出了「即時查核」(Fact Check)的網上功能,在重要的事件上發揮分辨消息真偽的作用。



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客觀平衡報道 反映社會對「公器」期望