“Hong Kong is definitely not a cultural desert.” (Harry Odell, 1964)
“When it comes to music, Hong Kong is a cultural desert.” (Kalervo Tuukanen, 1969)
Hong Kong has often been described as a “cultural desert”, both in the past and the present. While this term has indeed an awful colonial touch (from a time when bored European settlers were lamenting about the lack of entertainment), it has nevertheless been persistently used by locals as well. To an outsider Hong Kong might not appear as a boring city at all, but behind the bustling and glamorous face of an ever-developing metropolis also lurkes a strange emptiness – a shallow place without much depth.
To stress the unfortunate metaphor a bit more: What Hong Kong has in common with a desert is that you sometimes get lost and only stamina will get you to the place you have been looking for all along.
So is Hong Kong a cultural desert? In the sense of an unfruitful and dead place – no. In a way that its most precious creatures can often only be found in the cracks and shadows – absolutely.
Tobias Zuser is a researcher and consultant in the field of cultural policy, sports policy, and creative/sporting industries in Hong Kong and China. He is currently Guest Lecturer at the Department of Social Sciences at the Education University of Hong Kong and a PhD Candidate at the Department of Humanities and Creative Writing at Hong Kong Baptist University. He received his MPhil in Cultural Studies from Lingnan University, Hong Kong, and his BA in Sports, Culture, and Event Management from Kufstein University of Applied Sciences, Austria. Originally trained in the field of Culture, Sports, and Event Management in Austria, Tobias has worked for more than three years as an arts and event manager in Berlin and Beijing before returning to academia. Based on his experience as a practitioner, his essay “How the Cultural Sector Works in China” was published in a bilingual handbook by the European Union National Institutes for Culture (EUNIC) in 2011. You can find a list of his publications here.
Tobias is a fellow of the Chinese Soccer Observatory at the China Policy Institute, Nottingham University, as well as a member of the academic “Football Collective”. He also appears regularly on Hong Kong’s public radio channel – RTHK 3 – as commentator on Hong Kong and Chinese football, and hosts the weekly “Hong Kong Football Podcast”.