Virtual Eileen Chang shines through

Local | Bernard Charnwut Chan 25 Nov 2020

This year is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Eileen Chang, one of the most celebrated modern Chinese writers.

Chang's novels and short stories are hugely popular across the Chinese-speaking world and beyond. And six feature films have been made from her works, including director Ang Lee's Lust, Caution.

Chang was born in Shanghai but came to Hong Kong in 1939 to study at the University of Hong Kong. Much of her fiction is set here, and her work sharply observes Hong Kong's life and culture during the period just before and during World War II.

HKU has created an online exhibit about Chang to mark her centennial. On one level it's an in-depth chronicle of her student years. The curators have pulled up archives of her grades, her school photos, and even letters from her favorite professors.

But the exhibit is more than a biography. Reading through the documents and letters plunges you into the world of Hong Kong before and during the Japanese occupation.

It's a rich experience of armchair time travel. Browsing and clicking, you discover gems like Chang's description of working as a university air defense volunteer during a Japanese artillery barrage in 1941.

Because of pandemic restrictions, many museums began substituting online exhibits for live ones. Now virtual exhibits have evolved into an enticing format of their own, and an online exhibit sometimes can work even better than a live one. See what you think:

Bernard Charnwut Chan is chairman of Tai Kwun Culture & Arts Co Ltd.

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