Hong Kong celebrities

Pop stars join the fray

He probably knows the tune

AT CHINA'S ‘coming-out party’, the Beijing Olympics in 2008, the popular theme tune was a song called “Beijing Welcomes You”, with words by a renowned Hong Kong lyricist, Albert Leung. Mr Leung’s latest work, however, is unlikely to be music to the ears of the leadership in Beijing. Last weekend, several Hong Kong pop singers, including gay icon Anthony Wong, released their new song, “Raise Your Umbrella”, a tribute to the city’s student protest movement—complete with lyrics by Mr Leung.

Named in honour of the movement’s symbol, the everyday tool with which students sought to defend themselves against gas and pepper spray, the song describes the protesters’ umbrellas as flowers that “will not wither, nor will they be dispersed”, and says they should not worry if they feel fear. “We are not unafraid… but our lives have reached a tipping point. Keeping silent is more terrifying, ” it says, adding, “you'd have to open your eyes in tears." To emphasise this point, the song’s video features scenes of riot police firing tear-gas at the students; it has already been viewed more than 440, 000 times on Facebook.

Albert Leung, also known by his pen name Lin Xi, is nothing if not versatile. In his 30-year career he is said to have written more than 3, 000 songs—many for some of Hong Kong’s biggest stars, including Andy Lau, Jacky Cheung and the late Leslie Cheung. But given that mainland China is the major market for many Hong Kong musicians, and Mr Leung has also written for mainland stars like singer Faye Wong, supporting a protest movement which has angered the Chinese government might seem a bold step.

So how did he come to take it? Part of the answer may be what Oscar Ho, former exhibition director of the Hong Kong Arts Centre and now associate professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, calls Hong Kongers’ “selective approach to their identity”. “Many people are happy if China does well in the Olympics, and they may love classical Chinese culture, ” he says, but adds that they are also increasingly protective of their Hong Kong identity and values, particularly in the face of what he calls a wave of “tension between Hong Kong and the mainland.”

Mr Leung’s involvement may also signal a growing trend towards civic activism in Hong Kong. Mr Ho notes that in the past many residents were refugees from the mainland who saw Hong Kong “as a transitional place. Now these young people see it as home” and so have more of a stake in the city. The course introduced in Hong Kong’s secondary schools over the past decade has played a part, he adds. “It was meant to help us move to a more creative economy by encouraging critical abilities”, he says, “but it has had the unexpected consequence of opening up the minds of the young generation.”

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