Ye Si - Boundary

Pushing the Boundaries of Life through Literature

Looking Back on a Golden Age

In 2014 and 2015, Hong Kong and Taiwan took turns hosting an exhibition titled Leung Ping Kwan (1949-2013): A Retrospective to pay tribute to the late writer and the golden age that he represented.

Ye Si’s smile always emanated a gentle kindness, and he was always filled with curiosity and passion for the world. He was interested in different cultures and worked across various media. And he had friends all over the world. Ye Si’s unique humanistic vision was representative of a special time in Hong Kong. His poetry, essays, fiction and criticisms together recall a riot of flowers on a summer day, with so many pleasing shapes and forms to appreciate.

Boundary began shooting in 2009, at which time Ye Si suggested to the directorial team, “If you really want to know me, get to know my friends. In each of them you will find snippets of me.” The team did just that. It interviewed his friends from various fields: scholars, writers, artists, fashion designers and epicures. Together with conversations with Ye Si’s family, these interviews retrace the writer’s journey from the 1950s to the 21st century.

The documentary also includes invaluable footage from when Ye Si was still alive. The poetic images epitomize a Hong Kong culture that blended diverse and cross-disciplinary elements.

“A society without literature is a society without its own language, without its own identity, without the ability to carry out a dialogue with others on equal terms, and without dignity.”—— Ye Si

Hong Kong’s Foremost Cultural Figure

Ye Si is the pen name of Leung Ping Kwan. He was born in 1949 in Xinhui, Guangdong Province, China. That same year, his family moved to Hong Kong and settled there. He died in 2013.

Ye Si started writing in his teens and began contributing to columns at the age of twenty. His pen name Ye Si is a combination of two meaningless Chinese characters. He wanted to break with the tradition of pen names that “meant something”, instead giving readers a chance to ponder it and come up with their own feelings and meaning for the name.

After graduating from the Hong Kong Baptist University with a degree in English, he was a high school teacher, an editor for the art section of the South China Morning Post, and a columnist for eight years, writing book, movie and art reviews. Immensely talented, he was not only a poet, but also a learned writer and scholar of fiction, prose, literary criticism and cultural studies. In 1972, Ye Si co-founded Siji (“four seasons”), Hong Kong’s first publication to translate and introduce Latin American literature.

Ye Si was one of Hong Kong’s most important writers, and its most important cultural figure. In terms of literary achievements, he was prolific, winning the literary world over with his first volume of poetry, Thunder and Cicada Songs, which was followed by some thirteen more collections, including Poetry of Dissociation, East West, and Vegetable Politics. His poems have been translated into various languages including English, French, Portuguese and Japanese. His collection of prose includes volumes such as Grey Pigeon Mornings and Landscapes and Portraits, and his fiction includes titles such as Shih-man the Dragon-Keeper, Paper Cutouts and Islands and the Continents. Yet most important were his musings on Hong Kong’s urban culture, seen in books such as Books and the City, Ten Lectures on Hong Kong Culture, Popular Culture in Hong Kong and Cultural Space and Literature in Hong Kong. These cultural discourses brought for Hong Kong the power of self-examination and rebirth.

Ye Si was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009. He battled the disease for several years, during which time he never ceased to write and publish. Ye Si once said: “Hong Kong is like a place without history.” He did not want Hong Kong to abandon its own history and records of the past and become a truly unfeeling city. Through his continued writing, he preserved a slice of Hong Kong culture and created a space where the relationship between Hong Kong’s society and its people could play out.

Ye Si passed away in January 2013. His dying wish still concerned Hong Kong’s literature. He hoped that the marginal position to which Hong Kong literature had long been relegated could change, and that the world might one day turn its attention to the fine writers of Hong Kong.

Director King-Fai Wong

Devoting himself to the creation and study of literature and films, King-Fai Wong experiments by incorporating elements of literature in movie making. His screenplay for Life without Principle (2012), which drew from the literary technique of multiple narratives and points of views, won Best Original Screenplay in Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards and Best Screenplay at the Chinese Film Media Awards, and was chosen as Best Screenplay by the Hong Kong Film Critics Society. The movie itself won Best Picture at the Asia Pacific Film Festival. Wong has a Ph.D. from Shandong University’s College of Literature and Journalism. He edited the “Literature and Film” book series published by Hong Kong University, and has published two collections of short stories. His latest work is a full-length novel as he continues to explore the relationship between images and literature.

More Photos from the Set

The documentary quotes from Ye Si’s work. Often, one can’t tell if it is from his poetry, his prose or his discursive writings. That is precisely the essence of his writing; he does not seek to refine words into condensed poetry, but to win you over with its creative vision and thinking.
——Hung Hung (poet)

The documentary is not only an excellent film on literature, but filled with the nostalgia and well wishes of Ye Si’s friends. The narrative is infused with deep emotions and a poetic quality.
——Yu Shin-chuan (Assistant Professor, Department of Chinese Language and Literature, University of Taipei)

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Ye Si Chronology

1949
Born in China; family moves to Hong Kong.
1970
Begins writing columns for the literary supplement of the newspaper Express, edited by Liu Yi-chang.
1972
Inaugurates the literary journal Siji (“four seasons”). It is the first publication in Hong Kong to translate and introduce Latin American literature.
1973
Becomes editor for the “Poetry Page” of The Chinese Student Weekly, encouraging students to focus on subject matters concerned with Hong Kong.
1978
Publishes Thunder and Cicada Songs, a poetry collection.
1995
Publishes Poetry of Dissociation.
1996
Edits the “cultural vision series”, a collection of twenty books of fiction, prose and cultural studies by Hong Kong authors.
2000
Publishes East West, a poetry collection.
2010
Awarded Artist of the Year by the Hong Kong Arts Development Council.
2012
Named Author of the Year of the Hong Kong Book Fair.
2013
Dies from illness in Hong Kong at the age of 63.