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Wing Chung Ng becomes Fulbright scholar

Ng will research and teach at Hong Kong Baptist University in Hong Kong for 2012-13.

By Sherrie Voss Matthews, International Media & Marketing Coordinator

UTSA associate professor of history Wing Chung Ng will have the chance to flesh out the past while a Fulbright scholar in Hong Kong. Ng, who teaches history in the College of Liberal and Fine Arts, learned he had been selected as a Fulbright scholar for the 2012-2013 academic year.Wing Chung Ng

“In a way, it is a homecoming,” Ng explains. He grew up in Hong Kong, but came to North America to pursue his doctorate at the University of British Columbia. The timing could not be more perfect: Ng and his wife recently became empty-nesters. Both are looking forward to living in Hong Kong again.

The Fulbright will allow Ng to concentrate on refining and completing a book manuscript on the history of Cantonese opera, focusing on the development of this Southern Chinese performance genre in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 2009, UNESCO named Cantonese opera as an intangible cultural heritage on its prestigious world heritage list.

Ng will have the luxury of extended time to continue his research in local archives.  “I will be getting my hands dirty, let’s put it that way,” he says with a laugh.

One recent acquisition by the Hong Kong Heritage Museum is the Taiping Theater Collection. The theater, in operation from 1904  to 1981, was a major venue for Cantonese opera before the Pacific War.

The collection holds more than 300 play scripts, historical photos, costumes and other historical artifacts. The greater treasure trove for Ng  is the collection of business records, including apprenticeship contracts, employment contracts, loan documents, receipts, playbills, publicity materials, and details on theater management that will offer a business perspective.

The information will allow Ng to capture the coming of age of Cantonese opera, from an itinerant performance that catered to a rural population to a commercialized urban-based popular entertainment. Ng is also excited about the opportunity to delve into the ties between the Taiping Theater and its business counterparts in Guangzhou, Macao, and Cantonese migrant communities in Shanghai as well as those in Southeast Asia. Compared to other regional theaters and the more renowned Peking opera, Cantonese opera had the distinction of being a highly transnational operation.

While on his Fulbright, Ng plans to deepen his collaboration with fellow scholars in East Asia. Besides colleagues at Hong Kong Baptist University, Ng will work with researchers based at the National University of Singapore, Lingnan University, Hong Kong, the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and the Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou. He is part of a team of specialists currently completing a project on the translation of select play scripts from Chinese into English. The Fulbright award will allow him the time to participate in a multi-year research to produce a definite and authoritative set of reference materials and scholarly essays on Cantonese opera. This work is a national-level research project overseen and commissioned by the Ministry of Culture in China.

As a part of his Fulbright stay, Ng will teach two courses in the History Department at Hong Kong Baptist University, one on Modern China and another on Chinese immigration in Southeast Asia.

He’s looking forward to teaching and interacting with students in Hong Kong.

“To share my knowledge on Chinese history with a native population; it will be interesting,” he says. “Western historical perspectives – and the views of the United States – are not always appreciated in Asia Pacific. My training and personal background have given me an understanding of the views of the local people. I don’t plan to be defensive, but I am eager to undertake a dialogue on these subjects with students in Hong Kong.”

Sponsored by the United States Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Fulbright Program provides funding for students, scholars, teachers, and professionals to undertake graduate study, advanced research, university teaching, and teaching in elementary and secondary schools.