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Writer Tang Siu-wa steps back from sparring with words to promote literature instead

By Natale Ching

Tang Siu-wa writes, she writes and writes, and writes. She writes about culture, about literature, about society, on lifestyle, and about her daily life. She writes essays, commentaries, criticisms and poetry – in magazines, newspapers, books and on her own blog. However, to some people, the 37-year-old writer and critic is perhaps better known for her active engagement in wars of the written word.

Tang Siu-wa has a “calling” to promote literature in Hong Kong

Tang is bold in her assertions and is not known to sit on fences. When local writers were criticised as “parasites” living off grants from the Hong Kong Art Development Council, she leapt to their defence, pointing out how they struggled to make ends meet. When she suspects the incorrect usage of a Chinese character, she will go miles to show the right usage. For Tang, getting things right is a compulsion.

She set off on her journey in the local literary world while still a student at The Chinese University of Hong Kong where she was an active member in the poetry society. She continued her studies in literature at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology where she received her Master of Philosophy in 2006.

During her student years, Tang won prizes in city-wide literary competitions, coming second in the poetry category in the Hong Kong Public Libraries Awards for Creative Writing in Chinese in 2002 and winning in the “essay” category of the Awards for Creative Writing in Chinese in 2004.

Her writerly credentials are not in doubt but some of her peers and even prominent, established writers find it hard to understand Tang’s tireless participation in wars of words. Most of them concern the arts and literary and cultural issues. Sometimes she will persist in fierce debates over something as minor as the use of a single word.  “Suddenly it is like I’m intellectually possessed,” says Tang. “I just can’t bear it.”

Apart from wanting to get things right, Tang says what motivates her is the desire for a healthy debate. She hopes everyone taking part in the battle can become more familiar with the issues and the theories behind them. Tang spars with film critics, art critics and cultural commentators, but she does not fight to win. Instead, she hopes both sides can benefit and she admits she is not always right.

A case in point was the debate over the title of the Chief Executive’s 2014 Policy Address. Tang criticised the use of a character to mean “youth” in the Chinese version. However, others rebutted her with proof from more credible sources that the usage was correct. Tang says she was pleased to be corrected.