But such constructive discussions are rare. Tang says that with the rise of social media, many of these battles on the page attract the attention of anonymous netizens. Soon, the discussion becomes filled with personal attacks, foul language, and even sexual harassment. “[It’s like] people are blindfolded,” says Tang, “They can’t see the light, and their [ears] are stuffed so they can’t hear.”
Over the years, she has learnt to be stoical – she no longer expects people to show decency and respect, she knows her words can be distorted, she says some people just cannot distinguish right from wrong, and bystanders will just be bystanders.
Sometimes, it can be even worse. Tang says some people just invent labels to stigmatise those who hold opposite opinions on the internet. “There is no justice in the internet,” Tang says.
Having come to this conclusion, she says she will no longer be so active in wars of words.
It is just as well that Tang does not only lead a virtual life and has many other pursuits to occupy her time. She is devoted to promoting culture, to making a mark on the local cultural scene. It was a mission she set herself after completing her graduate studies. “I was planning to kill tigers,” she says.
However, she discovered there was a big gap between her expectations and reality. The cultural industry appeared to be in decline and Tang recalls many of her classmates who are knowledgeable about Hong Kong literature and comparative literature ended up editing textbooks to be used in local primary and secondary schools.
It may have been a common career path but it was just not Tang’s style to accept fate. Tang knew she could not wait around for fortune to come calling. She had to create a stage of her own, where her professional knowledge would be valued and she could do something for the community.
Apart from teaching creative writing courses at universities, she co-founded the Fleurs des Lettres magazine, a bi-monthly Chinese literature magazine targeting youth in 2006. The publication aims to be at the cutting-edge and innovative, arousing young people’s interest in Chinese creative writing and literature. Once the project was established, she took a back seat.
Tang now spends much of her time editing books related to the development of local literature. “There’s really no one doing this,” she explains. It is not an easy task – the books lack mass market appeal, and she has had to scale back her own writing projects. In the past 10 years, she has only written five books, but edited four.
At the same time, Tang also lobbied for the founding of the House of Hong Kong Literature, a non-governmental advocacy group that promotes the development of literature and the arts, which was finally established last year.
When the organisation advertised for an arts administrator, it was inundated with an overwhelming number of applicants. Tang was impressed that there were so many people in Hong Kong willing to contribute to the literature community. She also hopes the organisation can set a precedent and encourage people and groups who work in the arts to organise so they can better apply for funding.
Since setting out to create her platform, all of Tang’s work has been based on one simple belief – to develop and benefit the literary community at large. She hopes the community will have chances to better hone and organise their arguments and consolidate their ideas.
“As long as I create a brouhaha with lots of things happening everywhere and make the environment full of energy, then I will be very happy,” Tang says.
However, her optimism was dampened by the outcome and aftermath of the 79-day Occupy Movement last year. She worries civil society will become fragmented again, and progress in the arts will slow down.
But this does not mean she is deterred. “As I always say, we must be calm,” she says and strikes a pose of meditation before continuing in customary dramatic fashion, “that’s the only way we can kill our opponents.”
Looking ahead, Tang is uncertain about her future. She does not know what her next step will be, and will see if there are any gaps she can fill that have been left unnoticed by her peers.
Whatever does transpire, Tang knows there is one thing that will remain constant – she will treasure her identity as a writer and value the right to freely express ideas. For now, she has given herself one maxim for this year, which is “just to become enamoured with beautiful things.”
Edited by Benny Kung