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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Four challenges ‘Greater Bay Area’ planners must overcome to ensure success

CommentInsight & Opinion

Feng Da Hsuan and Liang Hai Ming highlight some issues for planners to consider for the Greater Bay Area, including how to tackle the complexities of the massive project, attract talent and prevent a brain drain in smaller cities, and ensure a safety net for failure

The release of a “Greater Bay Area” development plan for linking Hong Kong and Macau with nine cities in Guangdong province is expected to be released early this year. The plan may be a sign of China’s ascent, but this area will be starkly different from, for example, the San Francisco, New York and Tokyo bay areas. While it is all within one nation, it also links two “systems”, three currencies and multiple cities. This makes the plan highly convoluted, and such complexity could pose far more challenges than those found in other bay areas.

Here are four potential issues. First, because the Greater Bay Area consists of cities in Guangdong province, plus Hong Kong and Macau, any kind of amalgamation will be one of multiplicities, rather than natural affinities, and this could mean additional obstacles to the flow of talent, finance, logistics, information and so on.

It has been suggested that the euro-zone experience could provide a good lesson where, to coordinate nations of vast differences as seamlessly as possible, it was necessary to jointly organise and empower a “coordination team” to overcome the difficulties. Indeed, having such a team, at least in principle, should lead to greater affinities. This is why a single currency, the euro, and a single political system known as the European Parliament were established.

One obvious difficulty that the euro zone faced is that the economically weaker nations within it, such as Greece and Portugal, raised their debt levels greatly while under the euro-zone protection umbrella. The actions of these nations resulted in a series of debt crises which led to doubts about the sustainability of the euro zone, roiling financial markets, including those outside Europe. The European debt crisis and Brexit, plus the drama of potential exits by Greece and the Netherlands, have been directly or indirectly due to such actions.

These nations have chosen to leave, or have considered leaving, the euro zone so they can individually decide on exchange rates in order to increase exports and promote economic development. How to overcome or prevent the same fate in the Greater Bay Area is something that needs to be addressed upfront.

Also, the Greater Bay Area may not be able to attract talent within China and worldwide for sustainable development. It will take much more than just money and new projects to make the area a global centre of technological innovation, advanced manufacturing and maritime, finance and trade; what is needed is talent across the board and a global mindset.

There are two main issues to address in this respect. The first is to understand that the vision and ideas of foreign talent, especially people from Europe and North America, are quite different from those in China. Besides requiring high-paying jobs, comfortable living conditions and a pleasant working environment, these people also want a clear project mission, a step-by-step plan and well-designed project funding.

Unfortunately, this is the opposite of how Chinese operate. Generally speaking, while Chinese may have an initial grand vision, they tend to “plan along the way” rather than long-term and without already designated funds. The leadership of this grand development scheme will need great wisdom to bridge the gap.

Second, in euro-zone nations, due to workers’ low wages in the “have-not” nations, talent and indigenous finance tend to flow naturally toward the “haves”, causing a downward spiral for the others, making them even poorer. A similar situation may occur in the Greater Bay Area, where talent in cities outside Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Macau could flow towards those three. This could force such cities to institute favourable policies to retain indigenous talent, which could widen the gap between rich and poor in those cities, resulting in social instability.

The Greater Bay Area could also affect the surrounding regions. Developing the bay area could have a beneficial effect on surrounding, less-developed areas. However, an undesirable “echo effect” may occur; that is, production in those areas could flow back into the Greater Bay Area because of the emphasis on its development, causing the surrounding regions to suffer a loss of resources and production.

Finally, to become a truly successful world-class technological region, there must be a safety net for failure.

Across the world, whether in science, technology or entrepreneurship, failure is the norm and success the exception. If a region allows innovators to fail without a safety net to allow them to rebound, it will not only destroy innovation but also the innovative spirit. This safety net could be in the form of the protection of company dissolution, bank arrears as well as tax burdens. In the United States, San Diego is a successful biotech innovation centre, and one reason for its success is its robust safety net.

It is also important to underscore that the Greater Bay Area will not be the sole new innovation centre in China. Without a safety net, those who want to and are able to rebound may be attracted to other centres. It must be remembered that failure is not forever. After all, innovators who are willing to try again probably have enough energy, creativity and wisdom to succeed in the future.

It is our earnest hope that the Greater Bay Area development plan will address some or all of the challenges mentioned here.

We firmly believe that the designers have the wisdom, experience and vision to create a successful Greater Bay Area with Chinese characteristics, and propel it into the ranks of world-class bay areas internationally.

Feng Da Hsuan is senior adviser of the China Silk Road iValley Research Institute. Liang Hai Ming is chairman and chief economist of the institute

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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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What tiny Luxembourg can teach ageing Hong Kong about labour mobility in the Greater Bay Area

CommentInsight & Opinion

Lucy Kwan and Rex Wong Yat Chun say Luxembourg can be a model for Hong Kong as it tackles a static demographic and labour structure. Hong Kong must take advantage of its closeness to the Pearl River Delta by embracing openness through the flow of ‘frontier workers’


Hong Kong is faced with a labour mismatch problem. Industries such as construction and catering complain of chronic worker shortages, while Hong Kong’s youngsters are encouraged to choose a “decent” career in our pillar industries. Our education system, therefore, oversupplies white-collar workers but undersupplies blue-collar workers, who are seen to have less bright socio-economic prospects. As a result, our talent pool is imbalanced and cannot react according to the actual needs of industries.

Many developed cities in the world can draw their talent pool from surrounding areas. However, Hong Kong is special. Currently, there seems to be a lack of concerted and proactive efforts to increase labour mobility in both directions. Hong Kong should form a conurbation with neighbouring cities so that citizens within the economic circle can freely move from their residence to their workplace.

The completion of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge and the high-speed railway may realise such a vision. Luxembourg gives us a template.

Despite limited space and population, Luxembourg is one of the world’s most influential financial centres. On aggregate income per capita, Luxembourg ranks among the top economies in the OECD group of wealthy nations. Such economic miracles would not have been achieved if only locals were involved. In fact, nearly half of its population of just 500,000 are foreigners. Moreover, nearly half of the total national employments (more than 170,000 workers) involve “frontier workers”, that is, they reside in neighbouring countries and commute to work, usually daily.

The Luxembourg government has made huge efforts to facilitate cross-border employment. For example, frontier workers can come and go without any restriction if they are European Union or European Free Trade Association nationals. If they are third-country nationals, they must hold a valid work permit issued by certain countries, as well as a valid Luxembourg employment contract bearing a clear statement from their Luxembourg employer that they work for a specific number of days of the month.

Cross-border workers pay taxes in Luxembourg for income generated within the country. To avoid double taxation, Luxembourg has agreements in place with its three neighbours, France, Germany and Belgium. Cross-border workers in Luxembourg pay their part of social security in Luxembourg just like residents, which is lower than in the three adjacent countries.

Luxembourg’s success exemplifies the realisation of a high degree of cross-border mobility. It suggests a bright future for the integration of the labour markets in Hong Kong and adjacent cities such as Shenzhen, Macau and Zhuhai. These four southernmost cities in the “Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area” could become the core of the area, and our labour markets would complement each other and be integrated. From Hong Kong’s perspective, industries such as construction and catering could employ workers from our neighbouring cities.

Also, our university graduates would find many more opportunities in the region and it would be easier for them to go where they are both needed and valued.

Hong Kong’s economic and social issues resulting from an ageing population and static growth might be more easily solved.

To facilitate such mobility, we should first accelerate the development of new commercial and residential areas near the border, namely the North Lantau New Town, the Lok Ma Chau Loop area, and the Northeast New Territories.

It would hopefully become a commercial area that would attract companies, especially technology start-ups, to set up their headquarters. Also, the number of border control points and their capacity to handle the rising traffic volume should be expanded.

Secondly, the social security and taxation system for frontier workers within the region should be harmonised.

Workers may live on the mainland but still enjoy the best business environment in the world, including favourable tax rates, simple registration procedures and the established legal protection in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong’s competitiveness does not come from natural resources, but its people. We need a vibrant and flexible talent pool to sustain our unique competitiveness. Therefore, we should not turn a blind eye to our static and ageing demographic and labour structure. Our proximity to the Pearl River Delta gives us a geographical advantage in supporting our economic growth as well as exerting our influence.

Lucy Kwan is an honorary assistant professor at the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science at the University of Hong Kong. Rex Wong Yat Chun is a third-year student majoring in economics and finance at HKU

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How China is leading the ‘new retail’ revolution

CommentInsight & Opinion

Edward Tse and Jackie Wang say market moves by Chinese firms like Alibaba, Tencent and show how key players are experimenting with various forms of tech-driven ‘new retail’ in the O2O world, making the industry more dynamic than ever

While the past two years may have been brutal for brick-and-mortar stores worldwide, China’s online and offline retailers have witnessed a “new retail” revolution, driving an increasingly stronger national consumption.

Since China launched economic reforms in 1978, the country’s retail industry has undergone multiple stages of development.

With foreign retailers flooding in after China joined the World Trade Organisation in 2001, the scene was diversified. Offline retail started to be challenged by Taobao, Alibaba’s online shopping platform, which was founded in 2003 and grew ­exponentially in the following decade. The transaction amount for Alibaba’s “Singles’ Day” 24-hour online sales each November 11 has grown from 50 million yuan (HK$59 million) in 2009 to 168 billion yuan this year.

With e-commerce booming, businesses have been adopting an “online to offline” (O2O) model, using online channels to attract offline traffic. In the past few years, this phenomenon has evolved into the notion of “new retail”.

New retail represents a trend of online merging seamlessly with offline, resulting from the prevalence of digital technology, like mobile payment, wireless internet, sensors and artificial intelligence (AI).

In this model, online is no longer just a sales channel, but provides ubiquitous touchpoints to interact with consumers and their social groups. By contrast, offline retailers are trying hard to keep consumers in their brick-and-mortar stores for longer, offering better customer experiences by leveraging digital technologies.

From sales and marketing to ­logistics and inventory management, the new retail revolution is transforming the industry. For example, Amazon Go, the pioneer in new retail in the US, tracks purchasing behaviour with sensors placed on supermarket shelves. After consumers choose their products, they can just walk out of the store, with the amount payable automatically deducted from their mobile payment account.

Some aspects of the retail operation are also becoming less human-led. In China, logistics firm Cainiao is incorporating hi-tech-enabled hardware and software to improve efficiency. In its logistics park, ­Cainiao deploys drones to monitor the security of the venue. Within the warehouse, several robots called “Geek+” work with staff to sort packages. It also uses computer vision to identify, monitor and ­arrange different orders.

Improved logistics efficiency is contributing to the consumer experience as well. Consumers will not only receive their packages faster, but also with fewer errors and get fresher goods.

Whereas in America, Amazon is at the forefront of the new retail revolution, China’s speed and intensity have gone into orbit. Players big and small are experimenting with various forms of new retail, making the industry more dynamic than ever.

Driven by the huge market ­opportunities and abundant venture capital, start-ups in China are actively participating in this revolution. For example, Xingbianli, a convenience store and vending machine start-up, offers many popular Korean and Japanese products that could mostly only be bought via daigou (individuals who shop overseas and resell to Chinese consumers). More importantly, it is testing the area of unmanned retail.

Products have their own bar code, which can be scanned by consumers when they choose their shopping and then check out on the Xingbianli app. There is also a mini-library and a ­café within the convenience store, aimed at making consumers linger.

Traditional local retailers are also incubating their own new retail formats, such as Super Species, a subsidiary of China’s largest supermarket chain, Yonghui Superstores.

Super Species specialises in selling fresh produce, such as vegetables and seafood, and combines the traditional market with restaurants, ­cafés, florists, and so on. It has also introduced a Yonghui Partnership Plan, allowing staff to present more innovative retail ideas and pilot them within the stores. Super Species itself is becoming an incubator for those innovative ideas, and new retail here is no longer just about changing the store format, but also the mindsets of all staff.

Tech giants like Alibaba, Tencent and are heavily investing and competing head to head in the offline battleground. Alibaba ­invested US$2.9 billion in one of China’s largest supermarket chains, Sun Art Retail Group, in November. It aims to transform Sun Art’s offline business of over 400 ­Auchan and RT-Mart branded ­hypermarkets and provides technology to enhance customer data and inventory management.

In 2015, invested US$700 million in Yonghui Superstores. This month, Tencent, a close ally of, acquired a 5 per cent share in Super Species, and made capital injection for a 15 per cent stake in Yonghui Yunchuang Technology, Yonghui’s supply chain and logistics subsidiary.

To further compete with Alibaba online and enrich their own ecosystems, Tencent and are ­investing in, a Chinese e-commerce platform specialising in discounted products for women.

They will together own 12.5 per cent of and, as they further monetise their traffic, the new retail battle with Alibaba will ­get fiercer.

Foreign companies are also ­actively piloting their new retail strategy in China. Earlier this month, the world’s largest Starbucks ­Reserve Roastery opened in Shanghai, leveraging Alibaba’s technology to give consumers a more immersed Starbucks journey.

This is also the first mass offline application of augmented reality (AR) technology. Consumers can use the Taobao app to unlock the AR features in the store, such as learning about the details of the Starbucks coffee brewing process.

Technologies are enabling these companies to create new business approaches, while intense competition is driving all players to ­become better. They can’t afford to slow down. China’s scale also allows companies to use the market as a business laboratory and to experiment with business models.

Through fast launch and adaptation, players can fine-tune their business model at a rapid pace.

Beyond retail, the future consumption landscape will be much more complicated and sophisticated. Digital technologies, especially AI, 5G network and the internet of things, are already blurring the boundaries of industries.

Eventually, retail will be merely one layer of the consumer lifestyle, albeit a high-frequency one. The internet of things will create a new ecosystem that is ubiquitous and interconnected. Also, 5G network development will facilitate this process in the near future and bring about disruption in the retail world.

Assisted by machine learning and big data, consumers will ­increasingly be viewed as a “segment of one” and receive more personalised solutions, not just in ­retail, but in every facet of their life.

To that end, China will be at the global forefront of innovation and experimentation.

Edward Tse is founder & CEO of Gao Feng Advisory Company, a global strategy and management consulting firm with roots in Greater China. Jackie Wang is a senior consultant of the firm